As holistic living becomes more mainstream (hello Whole Foods and Lululemon), more women are embracing the idea of using a doula - a trained birth assistant - at their labor. Doulas do not deliver babies or make medical decisions for the mother. They are more along the lines of a highly experienced best friend, that can help walk laboring moms and dads through the delivery process. Even women who know they want epidurals are using them. "There's a boutique appeal to having a doula now," says Goldberg. "It proves you are educated, because you are taking things into your own hands."
In the last two years, Goldberg has seen an increased interest in doula training, which she offers through her business Believe In Birth. "When the economy crashed, women were looking for ways to be their own independent business person," says Goldberg, who has had to double the amount of sessions due to demand. "But they want to do something that has meaning and gives back." Now, she hosts training sessions and birth education classes around the region, and has trained more than 100 women.
Besides the emotional support, many women hope that having a doula will prevent the dreaded unplanned C-section. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the cesarean rate from 1996 to 2007 increased by 53 percent nationally, 55 percent in Pennsylvania, and 60 percent in New Jersey. In 2007, 32 percent of all births ended in a C-section, the highest rate ever recorded in the states, and higher than most other industrialized countries.
"Having a doula is like having Google in the delivery room with you," says Goldberg. She teaches her doulas that their main duty is to support the parents' needs, decipher medical jargon, and in the heat of the moment, ensure that women are making informed decisions.
There's also some coddling - massage, positioning, breathing, and showing deer-in-headlight fathers-to-be how to help.
Corey Pontz spent 12 hours naturally laboring with her husband and doula at her side, before she decided to have an epidural. "It was a hard decision for us," says the Philadelphia resident. "Even though it went against what I original had envisioned, we all agreed that it was a good decision. Her advice and insight was invaluable."
Depending on experience, doulas charge anywhere from $500 to $1,200. That includes a few prenatal home visits, and being on-call from the second labor starts until about an hour after delivery. They assist with that first breast-feeding, then come to the home for a follow-up visit within 10 days.
As more women bring doulas to the hospital, medical staffs are increasingly more welcoming.
Patty Constanty, the nurse manager of labor and delivery at Jefferson University Hospital, says her experiences with doulas have been positive, noting that it's a "great partnership."
While hospitals do not keep stats on the number of doulas used, Joshua Johannson, the doctor who medical director of labor and delivery at Pennsylvania Hospital, has seen an increase in the last five years. "From an evidence standpoint, doulas are a good idea," says Johannson. "They help patients, especially first-time mothers, cope with the events that are going on ... some are really excellent."
"You are allowed to have two people in the delivery room," says Joy Decaro, a doula who was trained by Goldberg in 2009. "We are all a team. Everyone wants what's best for the mom and the baby."
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