A doula is a person, usually a woman, who offers emotional, practical and informative support to women and couples, before, during and after childbirth. A doula does not have any medical responsibilities, is not an expert and does not give advice. Instead, they offer evidence-based information so women can make informed choices around pregnancy and childbirth, as well as in the postnatal period.
Types of doula
A birth doula supports couples leading up to the birth of their baby and during the birth. Usually the doula will meet the woman or family a few times before the birth. They discuss birthing options and prepare a birth preference document. The doula will be on-call and support at the birth, usually starting off at the client’s home in early labour. If transferring to hospital, they go with their clients to their chosen place of birth. A birth doula will also offer a meet-up after the birth to talk about the experience. This can help bring clarification to any aspects of the birth that are unclear and help with initial feeding challenges.
A postnatal doula will usually start after the baby has been born and support the new parents in their home. A postnatal doula is there to help and support the woman to discover the way that she wants to parent. The focus is on the mother, and can include practical help at home, and providing feeding support and information. Postnatal doulas usually work with a family for 6-8 weeks, but some stay for longer.
Who are they for?
Doulas support first time mums as well as experienced mums and the majority of women who have a doula the first time around will want her there again when another baby is on the way. Doulas support their clients wherever they chose to give birth and have no agenda other than to be a beacon of hope and positivity.
So, what kind of things can a doula do?
1. Educate you on your options
Doula work really focuses on ensuring pregnant women and new parents have up-to-date and evidence based information. This enables them to make the right choices for themselves. Often, women have a feeling about what they want to do, but worry about the risks. They may be unsure whether they are allowed to do what they instinctively feel is right for them. Doulas are there so discussions can take place around options and real risks rather than the arbitrary phrases often thrown around, such as ‘double the risk’ or ‘increased risk’. Generally speaking, if you have a healthy, straight-forward pregnancy, you and your baby are 99.4 per cent ‘safe’ when it comes to giving birth.
Doulas strive to make all the information available to their clients. They are always happy to share resources and talk through everything so the decision is right for each individual woman. There’s so much confusing, even conflicting, information; a doula will endeavour to ensure their clients can make strong choices about their birth and raising their child.
2. Provide emotional support
During pregnancy and as a new parent, there are times when it all feels so overwhelming and confusing. A doula is there to provide emotional support by listening and validating what their clients are feeling. During childbirth, having someone there who is 100% on the side of the woman and her partner makes such a difference. Women who report a negative birthing experience often feel like they had nobody who was there purely for them; who was checking in with them, reassuring them that what was happening was normal.
It can be difficult for a partner to know what to expect and who to listen to, the doctors or their loved one. Perhaps asking for more information goes out the window when things seem to spiral out of control. A doula will be a calming presence, with a number of decision making tools available to help couples make choices but also ensure that the right questions are asked.
Evidence based: doulas improve outcomes
Research shows that:
“Continuous support during labour may improve outcomes for women and infants, including increased spontaneous vaginal birth, shorter duration of labour, and decreased caesarean birth, instrumental vaginal birth, use of any analgesia, use of regional analgesia, low five-minute Apgar score and negative feelings about childbirth experiences.”Cochrane review
Doulas are great listeners, non-judgemental and aim to support their clients in finding a way forward. It takes a village to raise a child and doulas provide that lost connection to a wider network of support. It’s so helpful to understand that most new mums have feelings of confusion and distress. They often feeling torn between the person they used to be and adapting to the role of mother. It can be tough if a new mum thinks she’s the only one who feels this way. Reassurance from a doula can make such a difference.
3. Doulas provide a safe and relaxing space
During childbirth, a doula will support their clients in ways that will encourage the release of the important birthing hormone, oxytocin. A woman needs to feel safe and relaxed for childbirth to happen spontaneously and physiological. Some women don’t like to be touched at all in labour whilst others enjoy a gentle back massage. What a doula will do is, therefore, very individual to the client as she supports her during the birth itself. Doulas will always be led by their clients so it’s important that in the meetings before-hand these things are discussed.
During the birth, doulas will ensure their clients get information from their care providers about their care as well as facilitate communication. A doula usually checks-in with her clients to see that they are understanding and clear on any specific medical procedures suggested. It’s important that a woman feels part of all the decisions around her care.
In the postnatal period
Postnatally, a doula can offer suggestions and options around the care of a baby and give information on current guidelines and recommendation. Doulas can help with breastfeeding support and will know where to go for more help if needed. Postnatal doulas generally help with anything the new mum needs help with, like meal preparation, laundry, errands and practical information. This enables the new mum to be able to focus on getting to know her baby in a supportive and calm environment.
Hopefully more women and couples will start to look into the many benefits a doula can bring to their birth as well as postnatal experience. Women have always supported other women during the childbearing year and still do in many cultures. Doulas are simply providing something that has previously been there but has become lost in our busy lives, where we’ve forgotten that the presence of another human being, who cares about how someone else is feeling and experiencing, make a huge difference.
About The Author
Kicki has 17 years’ experience as a doula and has attended hundreds of births, including those of high profile clients, including one in Windsor Castle. She’s trained over 700 doulas and continues to do so through The BirthBliss Academy.
Kicki’s first best-selling book on childbirth “The Secrets of Birth” was released in 2015, and she contributed to “The Roar Behind the Silence” published the same year. She’s currently working on her second book; “Supporting Survivors of Sexual Abuse During Pregnancy and Childbirth: A Guide for Midwives, Doulas and Other Healthcare Professionals”. This will be published in 2020.
Her passion is for supporting women and families during the childbearing year. Especially ensuring that they make informed evidence based decisions as well as listening to their instinctual needs. She believes childbirth and the postnatal period have become distorted, and women are losing out the empowering experience of birth. Her mission is to gently but firmly create a new culture based on the physiology of birth to change the view of childbirth in the UK.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in