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We all have a different vision for our birth. Some may picture a small and intimate setting with just the partner and minimal care providers present, and some may imagine the chatter of loved ones, children, friends, and others who can surround them with support.

Doulas fill a unique role during birth, and while your best friend from college, your sister, or your mom may comfort you while birthing, they serve a very different role in the birth space.

Just as a doula doesn’t replace, but rather supports, the birthing woman’s partner, a doula doesn’t replace your friend, and a friend can’t quite serve in the way a doula can.

Here are three ways that your mom (or best friend) is not the same as a doula:

1. Your doula has no emotional stake in your birth choices

Your doula is there to support whatever you want, not trying to ensure the type of birth she thinks you should have. In fact, her whole purpose is to support your birth wishes! A trained doula is taught to be non-judgemental and to support your decisions for birth, from cesarean birth, to epidural birth, to home birth, she isn’t there to sway you one way or the other. She is simply there to support the choices your make for yourself.

Filling a strictly supportive role can be a difficult task for friends or family members. It’s not uncommon for a mother, sister, aunt, or friend to recommend that a birthing woman should experience birth the way they did. Because birth is so emotional, we often find self-acceptance when others make the same choices or have the same experiences we do.

You can rest easy knowing that your doula will be there for you.

2. Your doula is well-trained to support you during labor

A great doula has been through a rigorous training process taught by experienced trainers, and has spent weeks or months studying about birth and labor support. A great training will train doulas to assist in a variety of births and at a variety of birth places. It will extensively cover comfort measures, coping skills, communication skills, and how to handle difficult situations that sometimes arise.

They will know how to employ a peanut ball, what position

s encourage an asynclitic baby into a better position, how to communicate with you during the different stages of labor, what comfort measures to use for back labor, and so on. A great doula has done more than read a book to prepare for your birth, she has studied and trained to handle the curveballs that are often thrown during the birth process.

3. Your doula is accustomed to the sights and sounds of birth

A woman in labor is, in a sense, in a very primal state, and that can be uncomfortable for those who are not familiar with it. Birthing women sometimes cry, howl, moan, chant, and even sing. And while there isn’t really a right way to labor and give birth–we all do it in our own unique way–seeing someone you love in that primal state can be surprising. Your doula has an intimate knowledge of birth. If she sees you in transition, acting very different than you normally do, she’ll recognizes this as good progress. She does not view your behavior as suffering, but as a normal and positive part of the birth process.

This normality and ability to take an emotional “step back” from birth can be so much harder for a family member. A mother may worry that her daughter is suffering and may want to ease that suffering using readily available interventions. A best friend knows what worked for her in labor, but may not realize that that technique doesn’t work for everyone.

The objectivity that a doula operates under is an important tool that allows her to step back from a situation and see it for what it actually is.  It helps them view the events of labor as normal rather than frightening, giving her the ability to remain calm and supportive to you and your partner.

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Mothers, sisters, partners, friends, and family, can play a precious and important role at the birth. Because they have a lifelong connection to the birthing family, they can share in future events like birthdays, graduation parties, and more. There are few things more special for a loved one to be able to say than, “I remember when you were born!” as an always loved child grows. Women have supported one another through birth for millennia, and having women with us who help us feel safe and powerful is not only a good idea, it’s a crucial one.

In the same way that no one can replace your mom or your partner, nobody can quite replace a doula and her unique skills. As you plan for your birth think about who you really want there and what they bring to the table, so you can have the most amazing and powerful birth that you deserve.

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