I have, I believe, the best job in the world. I have the privilege to walk beside women as they journey through pregnancy, birth and those early postnatal days.
I am a doula.
I became a doula over 11 years ago and have worked with many families as they move into parenthood.
What, I hear you ask, is a doula?
The original definition of a doula reads: A female caregiver, trusted servant
The modern/every day usage definition reads: A woman who gives support, help, and advice to another woman during pregnancy and during and after the birth.
So a doula is someone who gives women and their families, continuous support during her pregnancy, during the birth of her child(ren) and afterwards in the postnatal period. This is within the mother’s home and wherever she chooses to birth.
What does a doula do?
A doula gives emotional and physical support. She does not give medical advice, nor does she replace the midwife or the doctor. As well as all of this, your doula will help you source, and provide up to date, evidence based information. She will, usually, have completed a doula preparation course. This does not mean that her learning is complete. She will continue to increase, improve and advance her knowledge so that she can be the best that she can be when supporting new families.
A birth doula will meet with the mother and partner at least twice before the birth. This is where she’ll get to know you, your hopes and fears for this birth, possibly debrief any previous births and help you look forward to this one.
She will be on call for you for 4 weeks, from week 38-42. She will make every effort to support you if you give birth outside the on call window, or to try to send you a back up doula.
She’ll provide continuous emotional support throughout the labour, encouraging you with positioning and relaxation. She will also encourage your partner in their role. She is not there to replace, but to support and help them to hold the space. A doula will ensure that you don’t have to worry about your partner, or how your partner will support you. She will give them words of encouragement and advice and help calm their fears.
Once the baby is born and has been fed, she will leave you when you feel safe for her to go.
She will return, in those early postnatal days, to visit, talk through the birth and marvel at your baby(ies). This may be one, or two postnatal visits.
A postnatal doula will also provide emotional and physical support. She will support the whole family, doing different tasks to help with the smooth transition into parenthood. This may be helping around the house, or being with the baby so that Mum can sleep, take a shower, relax. It may be sitting with mum as she feeds her baby(ies), and/or being a listening ear. She will encourage and help the family to learn and listen to their instinctual, parental voices. She is there should you wish to debrief your birthing experience.
‘To tell people that they are all the same is to deny them their journey’
Who should hire a doula?
Any woman that wants one. It is not specific to any one type of family. She may have a partner, or not. She may be any age. Doulas are there to support each family as appropriate. When you think about the long term emotional and physical effects of birth on the mother, her partner and baby(ies), I hope that you see how much of a valuable asset a doula could be.
Mothers who hire doulas are:
- more likely to have easier and faster labours, need fewer interventions and develop closer bonds with their babies
- 50% less likely to need a caesarean section
- 40% less likely to need forceps delivery
- 60% less likely to ask for an epidural
- more likely to have shorter labours; on average, 25% shorter
- more likely to breastfeed and less likely to suffer from postnatal depression
These benefits have been recognised by the World Health Organization.
Doulas are welcome in most birth settings as more and more women turn to them for support during their pregnancy, birthing journey. It’s worth talking to a few doulas before settling on the one that you want to have with you in your birthing space. It may be that you find the right fit straight away. If the doula you meet tells you that she’s a mentored doula, please don’t shy away from working with her. She remains in close contact with her mentor and can access extra support. She may ‘fit’ with you more than a more experienced doula.
I’m finishing this article having just come home from a glorious birth where mum didn’t get her dream scenario, but the midwives worked to ensure that she got a birth as close to the one that she envisioned as possible.
Supporting women and their families this way brings me lots of joy. After over a decade as a doula, I have written a doula preparation course [www.abueladoulas.com] so that more women can find the doula for them.
Birthing your baby(ies) is, and should be, a very special and intimate time. Your doula knows what a privilege it is to share that time with you, and your and your family will always retain a piece of her heart.
Written by Mars Lord
Mars is also the co-founder of Birth In The City – your favourite doula collective