TL;DR: The answer is, "No, doulas are not just for home births."
For the rest of you interested in why, read on!
In some parts of the country, it seems most popular to hire a doula only if you're planning to birth at home - or at least, that's the frequent misconception about who hires doulas. I often hear "oh, but we're giving birth at the hospital, so we won't need a doula," given as a reason against hiring a doula.
Doulas are helpful in home birth settings, no doubt. But, I believe that a doula is MOST beneficial in a hospital setting, for four simple reasons, which are detailed below.
The top 4 reasons doulas are best for a hospital birth:
4. Doulas are comfortable in a hospital setting.
Most people, unless they've worked in health care or otherwise had to spend a lot of time in a hospital, are (understandably!) not well-versed in hospital lingo or protocol. Pregnant people are no different in this regard. But a doula is.
In additional to the training doulas receive on how to best support labor physically (double hip squeezes, anyone?) and emotionally (ever have a friend that could sense JUST what you needed to hear? Yep, your doula's like that), doulas are trained and educated in "how birth goes." This includes knowledge about common procedures that occur during birth, medications given during birth, epidurals, typical hospital protocols, cesareans, and more.
For an experienced doula, this education includes witnessing first-hand how the births at any given hospital usually "flow" and even includes knowledge about how your local doctors, midwives, or practices might handle any given situation. Talk about reassuring!
During labor, your doula can help talk you and your partner through everything, as it's happening, and will support you the entire time. You can ask her questions that you might not feel comfortable asking your nurse. She'll help you raise questions when you need to know more. And she'll be able to translate some of that medical jargon into easy-to-understand, useful information for you.
3. A doula is focused on YOU
In most hospital settings, a doctor or midwife is the primary caregiver at a birth, and there will be a nurse assigned to your care as well. Add in your partner's support, and why would you need anyone else there?
Your primary caregiver is charged with making sure both you and your baby are healthy and well at the end of your hospital stay. While your doctor obviously doesn't want you to be uncomfortable, given how hospitals operate your doctor is unlikely to have the time to stay one-on-one with you throughout labor.
Practices differ across the country, but your doctor probably won't be in the room with you much while you labor. They tend to come in every couple of hours to "see how things are progressing," chatting with you briefly to see how you're feeling, see how your baby is doing, and may or may not be prescribing medications or offering suggestions for helping labor progress.
Similarly, nurses have medical tasks to attend to throughout your labor. They also don't want you to be uncomfortable, but their jobs just don't give them enough time to be able to devote all their energy to you. During labor, your nurse's job entails checking your blood pressure or other vitals regularly, charting how the labor is going, checking out the fetal monitoring machine on a regular basis, and other medical tasks.
Some hospitals devote one nurse per laboring patient, which is great! In that type of setting, the nurse will have more time to give you direct attention but will still need to attend to the other parts of their job.
In other hospitals, Labor & Delivery nurses are responsible for watching over multiple patients at the same time. Of course, this means your nurse will be dipping in and out of your room throughout the course of your labor, and won't be able to spend as much time with you personally.
Nurses and doctors are focused on you, but their job requires them to also focus on other things.
A doula's focus and her job are one and the same: you.
Your doula is present to help you stay present and enjoy the moment, to help you understand what's going on, to remind you of what you want for this part of birth, and to help you be comfortable. Your doula also helps include your partner in this momentous occasion.
2. Your doula knows you, and you know your doula
You are likely to have a group practice of doctors or midwives, any one of whom will actually be in attendance during your baby's birth. Usually you find one or two in the practice that you totally love, one you really hope doesn't end up being on call the night you go into labor, and maybe a handful you've never met or only briefly.
Depending on the hospital and the length of your labor, if you happen to find yourself in the midst of a shift change, you might have a new nurse or a new doctor. We know that everyone's different and sometimes personalities just don't mess. Do you really want to deal with that during labor? I know I sure don't. Cue the doula!
You've met your doula ahead of time. You've spoken about what makes you happy and what makes you tick. Your doula knows how involved your partner wants to be. Your doula knows if you want a natural birth or you want an epidural as soon as you can. Your doula knows if you want to have your baby skin-to-skin right after the birth or if you want him bathed first.
Your doula knows all of this, and will remember it all even in the heat of the moment. You hired your doula because you like her. Your doula will be with you from the moment you summon her until the baby is born! Your doula won't leave your side (unless, of course, that's what you want).
And the number one reason a doula is best for hospital birth (and, well, this is cheating, because it's actually why doulas are great for ANY birth):
1. Your doula wants what you want
All those plans you made.
All those options you have.
All the detours a birth can take.
All the choices your friends and family might not agree with.
Your doula wants you to be happy.
Your doula wants you to feel supported.
Your doula wants you to have the best birth FOR YOU.
It's never about your doula.
It's never about your mom (or your doctor, or your best friend, or your FB group).
It's all about you and what you want.
Your doula supports you.
There you have it, the top 4 reasons why hiring a doula for your hospital birth is a great decision. Doulas are great support for any type of birth, and especially useful at a hospital birth. I wouldn't birth at a hospital without one!
Did you hire a doula for your hospital birth? Please share your experience!
Are you looking for a birth doula in or around Memphis, TN? Let's chat!