Friend doula or DONA doula?

Feb 24 2015


Many mothers choose to have a friend or family member serve as a doula during their birth.  If you are an expectant mom going this route, I wish you the best and encourage you to choose very carefully exactly who it is you are inviting into your labor room, ensuring your companion is well educated on childbirth, has a clear idea of your expectations from her or him, as well as a clear idea of the birth experience that you are preparing to have.

As an alternative or in addition to your friend doula, a professionally trained doula offers extra peace of mind and benefits.  This weekend, I attended a doula training workshop by DONA International, the premier training and certifying organization for doulas worldwide. Here are just some of the many of the skills we discussed, observed, and practiced in our workshop:

  • hand massage, massage tool techniques, accupressure points, and heat/cold therapy
  • rebozo techniques, birth ball positions, peanut ball positions, and squat positions
  • rhythms and vocalizations
  • visualizations and body scanning
  • reframing of negative words and situations into positive
  • advocacy skills and offering of non-judgmental, evidence-based information
  • sensitivity in religious, cultural, same-sex parent, former sexual abuse, and other special situations
  • code of ethics and standards of practice

A great amount of our time was invested in practicing communication skills with mothers.  I confess, though I learned much over the weekend, my greatest deficiency before training was in this area and I had not even realized it!  I now have many more tools for learning a mother’s preferences for comfort, relaxation, and support, as well as for learning to recognize her discomforts and concerns.  There are items I had never considered placing in a “birth plan” that I now know to look for, even if a mother was not thinking of these items herself.  Doula communication also reaches to all of the other people on the mother’s team – medical staff, family, and friends.  You can be ensured that a professionally trained doula is prepared for interactions with everyone on your team.

Returning to the concept of a “friend doula,” I admit that I would be both humbled and overjoyed if a close relative or friend invited me to her birth, but I have a greater appreciation now for what a professional doula adds to birth over a mere good friend.  Besides having the extra skills, tools, and experience gained from training, there is tremendous worth in having a neutral companion in the room.  Without even realizing it, we often are “performing” before our friends and family, who themselves are trying their best to hide fears or contain excitement.  We want and need their affection, but this can cause us to play nice or ladylike, when birth summons our truest, strongest, most primal intuition.  Will you roar in childbirth?  Please don’t seek permission from a doula to roar.  How do you feel about breastfeeding your newborn?  Doulas have your back, no matter what the interests of your relatives or friends are.  No matter what you are feeling or thinking, a doula’s ears are a safe landing spot for your expressions.

What questions do you have about the difference between a DONA trained doula and a friend doula?  Have you ever used a friend doula?  I would love to hear what you have to share about the experience — positive, neutral, and negative.  Was there anything that you wished for out of your friend doula that you did not get?  Please let me know by commenting below, or to remain anonymous, send a message on the contact form.  Thanks!

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