What does a doula do? Why do I need one? I have my husband/wife/partner/mum, why do I need a doula as well? Are doulas worth the money? These are questions that I hear more often then I expected. Surely birth just happens? What preparation is really needed? More time and energy is often put into choosing a buggy or picking out colours for the baby’s bedroom than preparing for the birth. If you think about how much time and money is put into a wedding day and how much time and money people put into the day of birth, it is such a huge difference, but why? Is your wedding day that much more important than the day you give birth to your child? What about the long term benefits of a positive birth experience? Not only for the parents but for the baby as well, how many parents are aware that birth and early parenting choices can have a life long impact on their child? Does that fact make birth preparation a higher priority?
Research has shown that the continuous support of a doula can lead to:
1, Informational support.
A doula is able to provide information and signpost to relevant organisations or websites to support parents in gaining as much knowledge on birth in general as well as specialist information such as GBS, Breech birth, Cesarean or induction. Informed consent is a big issue in birth right now. If parents are not in possession of all the information how can they make an informed choice? During antenatal session a doula will ensure parents have access to all the information they need, talk through options, they will ensure they know about the hormones of birth, birth physiology, the impact of the birth environment and comfort measures available then during labour, a doula will advocate for the parents in any situation that arises, make sure that they are supported in their choices and remind them during the harder times of the things they learnt. Postnatally a doula can offer information on baby care, feeding choices etc. A doula can offer information of services that support breastfeeding and some doulas have specialist training themselves to offer breastfeeding support. Lots of doulas have extra training in things such as homeopathy, aromatherapy, herbalism and yoga, so they are able to give independent and expert advice on these things.
2, Emotional support
Antenatally a doula will spend time with the parents, get to know them and really talk about any fears, worries, expectations that they have about pregnancy and birth. A doula will work though these fears and help to find ways to ease them and ensure they do not have a negative effect on labour. A doula will also work with the father/birth partner, talk through their role during labour, ways they can support their partner both emotionally and physically, as well a discussing their own fears and being there to talk through anything they feel they want to talk about. Being able to really spend the time with parents, drinking tea and chatting can make a real difference. Knowing that they are really, truly listened to can make a massive difference to a family. That there is someone that is there purely for then, who they can call or text when they are feeling wobbly or when they have a question. That has them as their priority. There is a saying “It takes a village to raise a child”, which is about support around birth and child rearing, a doula can be the start of a village. Postnatally a doula will be there purely to support the family in the transition they are going through. A doula can make tea, protect the family’s space from unwanted visitors, sit with the mother and just be there. Some doula’s also offer overnight support so a doula can be there in the middle of the night when a mother can feel so alone.
3, Physical support
A doula can be hands on. A doula has a few different skills in her bag that can offer physical support to mum during pregnancy, labour and postnatally. These can include but are not limited to;
Massage- I like to use massage antenatally as the due date approaches, anxiety often starts to creep in, pressure increases both emotionally and physically, women are often sleeping less and physically more uncomfortable. So I offer a session on or around the due date of pure indulgence and relaxation. A herbal foot bath and massage, a gentle neck massage, some soft touch massage and visualisation. Some time purely for the woman to relax and feel nurtured, this time can often include tea and cake afterwards because lets be honest everyone feels loved after eating cake! Massage can also be used during labour, it can be calming and be really effective pain relief. A doula can do the massage and can also teach the birth partner to do it, four hands are better than two afterall!
Positional support- During labour finding an effective and comfortable position is so important. A doula can physically help a woman get into a position and support them to maintain it. A doula will also be able to suggest changes in position and is likely to be the one to remember that the woman hasn’t passed urine for a while and suggest a trip to the loo as a full bladder can really inhibit labour and birth. Walking and general changes in position can kick start a labour that has slowed and can provide effective pain relief if a woman is finding it hard to cope with.
Practical support for the birth partner- The focus during birth is pretty much entirely on the woman, which is how it should be, however the birth partner also needs some support. A doula can be there to remind the partner that they need to hydrate, eat and rest. If labour is lasting a while then a doula can take over while a partner rests so they are fully refuelled and ready for the serious part of labour when the woman really needs them. A doula can help explain things that are happening to the birth partner, if plans change or something unexpected happens a doula can either be extra support for mum or can take over practical things such as calling family or packing bags while the birth partner is fully focused on the situation. A doula certainly is not there to take anybody’s place or push them out. A doula is there to support and compliment the birth partner and increase the support and love for the mother.
A doula bag- A doula often comes with a bag. This bag can contain many different things, for example; a wheat bag for heat, battery operated candles or fairy lights, muslins and flannels, herbal sitz bath, massage oil, a birth ball, yoga mat, relaxation cd plus lots of other things. All these things can be used during pregnancy or birth to help maintain or create a birth environment or to offer pain relief to the mother. Some doulas also come with birth pools, peanut balls, birthing stools and more.
This list is in no way exhaustive, doulas offer a huge range of support and services and can be very flexible depending what family has hired them. We are passionate about birth and our main goal is to empower and support women to achieve a positive birth experience. We want every women to come out the other side of birth saying “I am a warrior and I feel like a goddess”, we want women to feel like Superwoman and we want them to say “I was supported, I was respected and I was loved.”
Doulas are always open to discussion. All doulas I know offer a no obligation, free of charge meeting where you can they can talk about what they can offer you and you can ask any questions you have and let them know what kind of support you are looking for. Finding the right doula for you is so important and that is what this meeting is about. Feeling the connection. This person will be with you at one of the most intimate moments of your life. You will remember them forever and they will remember you.
For more information take a look at Doula UK. Directories of doulas can also be found at Nurturing Birth and The positive birth movement.
* Brigstocke S. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol 24, no 2, 2014, pp 157-160
† Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5