Like most pregnant women, you probably fantasize about what awaits you during labor and birth. While no labor is perfect, one of the best ways to make it apositive experience is to have people with you who will meet your physical, emotional and informational needs. These people might include your partner,your mother, or your best friend.

You could also hire a doula to be with you and your family. A doula is a woman who is trained to help women through labor. She's a part of your birthingteam, along with you, your partner, family members, your physician or midwife, and your nurse.

What doulas do A good doula supports your wishes for your labor and birth. She understands all the physical and emotional aspects of labor and can provide you withinformation you need as your labor progresses. She's nurturing and comforting, and she's well versed in techniques that can help ease the pain anddiscomfort of labor. For example, she might suggest a new position, offer a massage, or lead you through a special relaxation technique like patternedbreathing.

Know your facts about doulasa It's important to understand that a doula is not a trained medical caregiver; she does not give medication or make medical decisions. However, she is apart of the birthing team and can offer you the individual attention and support you need throughout your labor and delivery. She can also help you withbreastfeeding after the baby is born and can make visits to your home after you leave the hospital to see how you and the baby are doing.

Finding the right doula Begin your search at the beginning of the third trimester to give yourself plenty of time. When hunting for a doula, ask the following questions to helpdetermine whether a particular person is right for you:

What is her training and experience with birth? (She should be certified through a national organization such as Doulas of North America.)

  • What is her philosophy about supporting mothers and fathers during labor?

  • What types of things will she do for you in labor?

  • Does she have a positive working relationship with the hospital where you plan to give birth?

  • Will she be available at the time of your due date?

  • Does she have back-up if she isn't able to attend your birth?

  • What are her fees?

For more information about doulas or to locate one in your area, visit the Web site of Doulas of North America (DONA).