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Doulas deliver help for birthing moms

  • Story Highlights
  • Doula is a Greek word meaning "woman's servant"
  • There are about 2,500 certified doulas in the U.S.
  • Doulas have no medical training, aren't supposed to offer medical opinions
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By Judy Fortin
CNN
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ROSWELL, Georgia (CNN) -- The lights were dimmed, soft music was playing and a scented candle burned on the counter. In the center of it all was Julie Trotter -- moaning through hard labor contractions.

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Doula Kai Martin Short works to ease Julie Trotter's pain during labor.

For more than six hours, Trotter, a 23-year-old from Duluth, Georgia, tried different techniques to ease the pain of natural childbirth. Not only was her husband offering encouragement, but so was her doula, Kai Martin Short.

"She definitely was a lifesaver for sure," Trotter says. "She used a lot of counter-pressure through each contraction, and that helped so much."

Doula is a Greek word meaning "woman's servant." Part birthing coach, part mother's assistant, doulas are showing up in more delivery rooms than ever before.

Short, from Atlanta, Georgia, is among 2,500 certified doulas in the United States.

"Doulas trust birth and are not afraid of it even when the mom and dad get afraid," Short said. "We're there to just say things are fine; you're doing great; this is all normal."Video Health Minute: Watch how a doula helps a woman through labor »

Short offers more than comforting words. For a flat fee of $700 per client, she meets with the parents before the baby's due date to talk about their expectations and to share techniques to be used during labor. She is by the mother's side in the delivery room and visits the parents at home after the baby is born to offer advice on such topics as breastfeeding.

In her three years as a doula, Short has attended more than 30 births. Her training with a group called DONA International involved 26 hours of instruction on pregnancy, childbirth and comfort measures. "Whatever [mothers] need, whether it be changing positions, encouragement, massage or saying comforting words, there are so many things we do to help with the process," Short said.

Short tries to create a calm atmosphere in the delivery room with music and candles. Throughout the labor, she massages the birthing mother's back and rubs her head. Another one of her tricks to relieve pain involves having the woman sit on a big rubber exercise ball during contractions.

She encourages the father or other family members to get involved in the process and shows them how to help the mother breathe through contractions.

"I think it's really hard for a loved one to see their loved one in pain," Short said. "They don't really know how to help them."

While Short has plenty of advice for parents, she has no medical training and is not supposed to offer a medical opinion. She does not take the place of a doctor, midwife or nurse. Her role is to strictly work with the family and motivate the mother during labor and delivery.

But Dr. Sean Lambert, an OB/GYN who delivered Trotter's baby at North Fulton Hospital in Alpharetta, Georgia, says that sometimes, doulas can cross the line.

"It's almost as if some women and some couples have turned to them for too much advice and guidance," he said. "Occasionally, it will cut across what we recommend on a medical basis."

Short says she's never had any clashes with medical professionals. "Really, it's separate roles," she said. But she can understand how the relationship can get tricky. "It can be territorial sometimes if the doula is a little bit more strong-minded or opinionated."

Short encourages her clients to ask questions, and she's careful in her approach to the answers she gives.

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Ten days after the birth of her son, Braydon, Trotter reflected on the experience. "It was a perfect one in my eyes," she said. "I think having a doula definitely would be helpful for anybody, and I wouldn't change anything about the birth."

Short enjoys seeing new families come to life and concludes, "The best part for me is helping women realize what their bodies can do. Just having that support can make all the difference." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Judy Fortin is a correspondent with CNN Medical News. Producer Leslie Wade contributed to this report.

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