I often say a doula is like your walking/talking/breathing childbirth education class -- a live, recalling commodity that can guide you through the things you learned in your classes. I love Veronica's insights here -- yes this concept of a doula works, and it works optimally when the family has taken good classes beforehand from an experienced childbirth educator. Excellent points are made about why one (a doula) is not equal to the other (a childbirth educator), and vice versa.
When I decided to make the switch from the investment field to my current career, I ended up looking into becoming a childbirth educator and a doula at the same time; as it turned out, I started teaching less than 6 months after attending my first birth as a doula, so my professional identity had almost always included both roles. There is some doula/childbirth educator crossover, but not as much as you’d think. One reason? It’s far easier to get trained and certified as a birth doula than to be trained and certified as a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, mostly because there are simply more doula trainings. One thing, though, that I feel very strongly about is making sure people realize that hiring a doula is not an acceptable substitute for childbirth education, and a childbirth educator isn’t a substitute for a doula. Both are necessary, and they have very, very different roles.
A childbirth educator, and thus, a childbirth class, is important to help you understand the birth process, various interventions, and help you set realistic expectations for the first few weeks after your baby is born. You need to know these things before you go into labor– once you’re in the midst of birth and postpartum, you just won’t have enough bandwidth to absorb any of that information. And as I wrote previously about the relevancy of childbirth education in 2014, the conversations that we can have in class can not be replicated through any other means.
As a childbirth educator, my certifying organization works very hard to make sure we are staying up to date on evidence-based care. In fact, I’d argue that since we aren’t contractually required to follow a set curriculum that is rarely updated, Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educators are the most likely to have the most up to date policies and guidelines included in the class content. The policies and standards of care are ever-evolving; usually with the goal of improving outcomes for moms and babies.
As a doula, I prefer if the parents I work with have developed their birth preferences separate of my input. That way when the doctor or midwife asks them about their preferences, I know that the family has fully thought through what they want and don’t want. Education allows them to sort through all of their options, and doula support seeks to help them achieve those goals. And really, to think that 2 or 3 prenatal visits can cover as much as is covered in a birth prep class is an insult to those of us who are childbirth educators.
BUT…as a doula, I offer in-person support at the time of birth. That’s obviously not something I do for the families who take classes at BabyLove (unless they contract with me and my doula partner for doula services). As a doula, my role is to stay there, in the moment, to offer physical and emotional support to the birthing mother and her partner. The act of being a doula is fluid, sometimes intangible, and it’s hard to articulate exactly what I do. So much of what I do comes from instinct, from my experience with other births, and largely just following mom’s lead.
As doulas have become more mainstream, the role of childbirth education has diminished. And I am frustrated that the same women who are fighting so hard to promote paid doula care are also trying to say that what they do is a replacement for childbirth education. If they want respect, they should be respectful. We would all do a lot better if we could acknowledge that it takes interdisciplinary cooperation to best care for and support new families.
Veronica Jacobsen, BA, CD(DONA), CLC, CPST, LCCE, FACCE, is the owner of BabyLove in Eagan, MN. BabyLove is an independent childbirth education center where classes, support groups, doula meetings, and a whole host of birth/baby/breastfeeding-related happenings occur. Veronica brings a unique skill-set to her work, as she formerly worked in the investment field -- she offers business consulting as well. Veronica is a prolific blogger with her topics ranging from traditional ones you would expect related to birth, to insightful business tips, to her all-too-relatable Real Mom Confessions. As an educator, Veronica provides mothers and dads/partners with the understanding and trust they need to navigate through the wonderful transition into parenthood. As a doula, her goal is to provide care that informs and empowers women from all walks of life. She believes birth should be viewed as a normal, natural process, and not as a medical emergency.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)