By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Something to have in your new dad’s arsenal is a doula. Although the word doula may have you picturing some sort of metal-studded medieval torture device, a doula actually can be a soon-to-be dad’s secret weapon — one that can take some of the pressure off your very tense shoulders. A doula is a person, generally a woman, with a comprehensive understanding of the birthing process.

She is hired to provide emotional and physical support throughout labor. Think of her as your very own in-hospital, labor-specific Google search/motivational speaker who encourages you to participate in labor and delivery as much or as little as you’re comfortable with. Services doulas offer include the following:

  • Offering your partner nutrition advice and tips on coping with pregnancy discomforts

  • Helping the two of you create a birth plan

  • Staying with you and your partner throughout labor and delivery (the doctor and nurses aren’t present the whole time if you deliver in a hospital)

  • Facilitating communication of the birth plan and the decisions of the mother and father to the doctor/midwife and nurses

  • Giving light massage to your partner (and even you) during labor and delivery

  • Encouraging different positions to help advance labor

  • Helping your partner get baby latched on for the first breast-feeding post-delivery

If you think doulas are only necessary for deliveries in which the father isn’t involved, think again. Labor is a complex process, and as it progresses you and your partner will be asked to make many decisions about procedures and medications for which you may not feel fully prepared.

A doula can inform you about both the risks and benefits involved and help you explore other options that may better suit your birth plan.

Doulas also provide your partner constant support while giving you the opportunity to step out of the room to grab a quick snack or take a breath of fresh air. For long labors, a 15-minute nap can make the difference for a worn-out dad-to-be. Doulas ensure that someone who understands the process and your birthing choices is with your partner at all times — even when your eyes are closed.

Working with a doula has a medical benefit, too. Research shows that couples who have a doula present during childbirth tend to have shorter labors with fewer complications and a reduction in the use of labor-inducing medications, forceps, vacuum extractions, and C-sections.

After your new family returns home, most doulas make a postpartum visit that provides support for mom and baby and also provide telephone support for a specified duration following birth. Some doulas work mainly with moms for the birth, while others specialize in helping out after you return home.

Talk to your doctor about having a doula early in your prenatal care if you’re delivering at the hospital. Not all doctors — or all hospital staff, including nurses — welcome doulas with open arms. However, this is your delivery, and it’s up to you to decide who gets to be there, within reason.

Not all doulas are created equal. Make sure to interview multiple candidates and ensure they’re certified by DONA International. For more information about hiring a doula, visit the DONA website.