The Important Relationship Between Nurses and Doulas


The other day I saw a brilliantly-written post about nurses and doulas and immediately felt inspired to write my own version. As an Edmonton doula, I’ve had the chance to work alongside many local nurses in the hospital births I’ve attended, and though I’ve luckily had very positive experiences so far, I’ve heard many stories (from both sides) of when the relationship between the nurse and the doula has been less than pleasent. It’s unfortunate but sour doula-nurse interactions happen, often when either of them have had bad experiences in the past with others in their profession. However, when doulas and nurses work together in harmony, they can really set the tone for an amazing birth experience for the mom and dad. In my Edmonton prenatal classes, I always recommend that parents hire a doula – especially if they are planning a birth in the hospital. So how is it that I am supportive of nurses and doulas working together when they seemingly do the same thing? Well, they definitely DO NOT, so here’s a bit more about why we are different and why we are stronger together.


Doulas are not medical professionals, Nurses are

If you’ve ever met with an Edmonton doula, you’ll recall that we are always clear from the get-go that we do not give medical advice, perform medical procedures and voice our own opinions on any part of the medical portion of childbirth. That is the nurses job! He or she does everything from administering pain medication, to pelvic exams, to assisting in the delivery of your baby and so much more. As doulas, we work with nurses to ensure that you are given all of the information about each decision you make so that you can make it clearly, and they can be assured that everything they are doing for you is what you truly want. For an example, if your labour were to slow right down or stall, a doula will list off your options to get it to speed back up again along with information about each. If you were to choose getting your membranes artificially ruptured (aka your water broken), a nurse would come in and do this for you and know that you’ve explored all of the benefits and risks of this decision before making it.

Doulas are highly trained to comfort the labouring mom

A doula is at a birth for the mom and dad – plain and simple. We support one couple at a time, we advocate for everything the couple wants and we nurture both of you during this time. Nurses are sort of in the opposite setting: they often have many different patients to help at a time, making it difficult for them to comfort you when you really need it. They also work under the Doctor, so they have to answer to their wishes, regardless of if they align with yours or not. When nurses and doulas work together, we can act as the communication liaison between you and your doctor to ensure both of you are happy. Finally, nurses are highly trained in the medical side of birth, but when it comes to the physiological, mental and emotional side of childbirth, us Edmonton doulas are experts!

Doulas take time to inform

Referring back to my statement about nurses being pressed for time, they often will not be able to spend the amount of time you need to go over EVERY risk, benefit and alternative to each aspect of your birth. That is what a doula is there for. An example of this is the choice of getting an epidural. In my experience, a nurse will come in with a sheet of generic information about epidurals, ask you to read it and come back in 30 minutes for your decision. However, they aren’t able to sit with you and talk about the many different experiences you could have. They won’t talk about what you could do before trying the epidural, or how it might impact your experience with the rest of your birth emotionally, or even be there to tell you that you CAN continue on without one if that is what you really, really want. This is because they would have to potentially talk to 5, 10, maybe 15 other women about all of this and never have any time for any of their other important tasks. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing the look of satisfaction on a nurses face when an educated mom asks for a specific pain medication and makes that decision simply and quickly because mama is prepared!

Nurses and Doulas learn from each other 

As important as both the nurses and the doulas role is at the birth, there is so much to learn from each other’s roles. At a birth I attended, a nurse was explaining to me how to read a fetal heart strip (something we aren’t trained to do as Edmonton doulas) when we had some downtime, which I loved because I found them so interesting after I knew what all of the various lines meant (and they were no longer just squiggles!) At another birth, I was convinced that a mom’s baby was in an OP position and the nurse thought otherwise because the mom did not have any intense back labour. When we asked the doctor, it turns out baby was OP and the nurse was surprised and learned that not all OP labours cause back pain. When doulas and nurses truly work together, we can change lives for the better by creating better birth outcomes.

So I may be biased (as listed in my bio, my mother is a labour and delivery nurse), but I think nurses are pretty incredible and deserve more credit than they are often given. As an Edmonton doula, I’m honoured to get to work with such important people regularly and I look forward to continuing to build relationships with and learn from them in the future!

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