What’s a Doula?

They offer physical, emotional and spiritual support to moms to be and their families

By Katie Coleman

Birth Doula Shannon Johns teaching an expectant mother internal focusing in the squatting position.
Birth Doula Shannon Johns teaching an expectant mother internal focusing in the squatting position.

There is an entire community of doulas in Western New York that you may not be aware of. Knowing all your options before, during and after giving birth is really important. So, what’s a doula?

Greek in origin, the word doula means women’s servant.

“A doula is someone that is there to comfort and support you through the entire process of pregnancy and labor,” said Shannon Johns, a birth doula who owns Calming Nature Birth Doula Services in Buffalo.

After giving birth to six children with and without support, Johns took all she knew to start helping friends and family experiencing the birthing process for the first time.

Doulas provide physical, emotional and spiritual support through the entire birthing process with prenatal, labor, pregnancy, and postpartum care.

Doulas do not replace nurses or medical staff, and do not perform clinical or medical tasks. They are there to support the mother and father, and foster effective communication with involved medical professionals. A midwife or OB-GYN performs the actual delivery of the baby.

“It’s so exciting being a doula — the energy you feel when you see how hard a mom’s working and what a great job she’s doing is amazing. Being able to see all the hard work she’s put into a gorgeous little baby is really exciting,” Johns said. “I want every woman and their family to have an amazing memory of when they gave birth.”

Doulas can go wherever you choose to give birth, whether at home, at the hospital or at the Birthing Center of Buffalo located at 2500 Main St., which offers certified midwifery and OB-GYN care, intensive prenatal care, education for moms and their families on healthy pregnancy, labor, birth, breastfeeding and parenthood.

According to the nonprofit international doula association — DONA International — statistics show that when doulas are present during and after childbirth, women report greater satisfaction with their experience, have faster births and fewer cesarean sections and requests for medical interventions, and less postpartum depression. Although doulas help women choosing a natural birth, they are also there to support women who want a medicated birth.

“What women need the most from me is my presence,” Johns said. “Knowing someone is there for the sole purpose of providing comfort and support so they don’t feel unaware or alone.”

Doulas also coach dads on how to be an active part of the birthing process. “A lot of times you end up with dads who don’t know what to do to help, so they end up as spectators. We show them how to help the mom,” Johns said.

Doulas teach both moms and dads different positions and mindfulness that help women follow the instructions of their bodies instead of fighting against their pain.

“My first home birth was with a 16-year-old mom in Buffalo,” Johns said. “I was amazed. She had so much mind control, confidence and willpower. She did it so beautifully and was completely calm, more so than women much older than her.”

When one of Johns’ clients could benefit from massage or when she needs backup help, she calls licensed massage therapist and birth doula Amanda Rayburg who specializes in prenatal and postpartum massage. Her private practice is out of the HEAT Center located at 1300 Niagara St. in Buffalo.

A few years ago before even knowing what a doula was one of Rayburg’s massage clients asked her if she’d attend her birth to help keep her calm and massage her. She agreed, and after doing some research the word doula popped up. Rayburg was introduced to a service available to women, but completely off the general public’s radar. After such an amazing experience assisting her client, Rayburg decided to go through training to become a birth doula. Four years ago she attended her first birth, and as of October she’s helped 15 women give birth.

“It’s just a blessing,” Rayburg said. “Before massage I worked in daycare and because women can’t get any real maternity leave, I’d have to take babies at six weeks old because their moms had to go back to work. I love that now I get to see a child come into the world and be placed in the hands of their mother or father.”