Vaginal Birth

Why Does She Need a Doula?

A common misconception of a doula is that they replace the role of the father or birth partner, when actually, our main aim is to make the mum/birth birth partner team even stronger by taking the weight of the unknown....

Emiliana Hall

This is a question that I know crops up for lots of birth partners as soon as mum mentions wanting to hire a birth or postnatal doula.

Rightly so- you’ve gotten this far without support from a complete stranger, right?! A common misconception of a doula is that they replace the role of the father or birth partner, when actually, our main aim is to make the mum/birth birth partner team even stronger by taking the weight of the unknown and general organisation that comes with meeting a baby off of your shoulders.

To give you a very quick background, doulas have been around for years, but are becoming a popular addition to parents’ birth teams in our modern day world. Traditionally, mothers, aunts, sisters, even neighbours would be around to support a new family during and after baby’s birth. But in recent years that community dynamic has changed dramatically. Our health system is more stretched than ever and doulas are providing more families with emotional and practical support everyday.

It was in 1973 that the term “doula” became an official ‘job’ description- it’s a shame they didn’t pick a name that was a bit more self explanatory!! The word doula comes from ancient Greece and means female slave (lovely!). In this context, it’s someone who assists before, during and after childbirth.

A 2013 Cochrane study found that the presence of a doula during pregnancy and childbirth resulted in a wide range of positive outcomes, including reduced risk of Caesarean and instrumental birth, reduced need for ­painkillers or epidural during birth, shorter labour, increased parental satisfaction with the birth experience and increased likelihood of initiating breastfeeding.

So what can you, the birth partner, expect from a doula?

Before birth:

  • In the lead up to the birth, we spend a good amount of time teaching you and mum about the how’s, what’s and what-if’s about birth. Informed parents are confident parents, and we love to see parents take control of their decisions knowing they are doing the best for their newly formed families. This would normally be over 2-3 antenatal sessions in the comfort of your own home in the months before birth.

  • We help you to write your birth preferences (what you can control) and think through navigating unexpected turns (what you can’t control).

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During birth:

  • We are available to come to you from around 38 weeks up to 42 weeks (depending on the agreed time with the doula), at any time of day or night, so you can rely on us to be there when you need us. Even if you aren’t sure on whether it’s the ‘real thing’, doulas will speak to you by phone at anytime in this period, and come to you if you ask us to

  • You could think of us as a walking library… even if we don’t have all of the answers on the spot, we’ll be completely comfortable with speaking to care providers to get them for you

  • Saying that, we do not offer medical advice. We’ll share a balanced and totally unbiased view of the situation, but it will always be down to you to make the decisions on the day. This is why the antenatal sessions are so important, as it’s then that you will learn all about the pros and considerations of most options and scenarios you could be faced with in the lead up to and on the day

  • We’re a constant, reassuring presence in the room. Someone who won’t change shift or go home – and that can have a huge effect on the birth

  • The hours spent getting to know you and mum during your antenatal sessions will pay off during a straight forward birth or a birth that experiences unexpected turns. This is because we’ll understand your birth hopes and support you in achieving what you both want. Birth centres and labour wards can be very busy places, so having someone who is comfortable to request dim lighting, music, important birth support tools can really take the pressure off of you when you just want to be with mum

  • At a home birth, we can agree roles and responsibilities so that you’ll feel completely comfortable that everything is going to be taken care of on the day. This could be making sure the midwives are kept going with tea and biscuits, making sure the candles are lit or helping to fill up the pool if you’re having one. We can be as hands on or as hands off as you’d like us to be!

  • If birth slows down we have a fair few tricks up our sleeves to get things moving again… no weird magic involved (!) just calming and comforting techniques that help mum to feel relaxed and safe in her environment in order to help things to pick up again

  • If an unexpected turn were to arise, having someone that you trust with you can be hugely helpful too. A lot of mums say that they worry about the birth partners in a situation where they need to be taken away for treatment, so knowing someone familiar is on hand to support you too can help mum’s peace of mind in any unexpected medical situations

  • If birth is taking a particularly long time, then doulas can tag team with you so you can get some rest or restock on supplies. Or we can restock the supplies- whichever works best for you

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After birth:

  • The hour after birth is known as ‘the golden hour’, and so a doula’s role here is to make sure you can be with your baby to spend that uninterrupted time with them

  • Taking photos and videos of this precious time can be something that you ask us to do, midwives generally won’t have time to do the extra bits, as much as they would love to

  • At a home birth, we might be making mum some food (they will be ravenous after labour!!), making the midwives tea (it’s important to keep them going too!), or helping to clear away the pool and popping the towels in the washing machine

  • At hospital it might be making sure the harsh lights are switched off, dim fairy lights are set out and calming music is switched on to make baby’s transition to their new world more cosy. This can also help with supporting bonding and breastfeeding too as it will be more helpful for mum and baby to produce all of the feel-good hormones that are needed

  • If baby has been born abdominally (via c-section), your doula can stay with mum whilst you go with the baby for their checks (sometimes these can take a little longer after an emergency c-section)

Postnatally

  • Some birth doulas also offer postnatal doula support. Or you can just opt for postnatal doula support and not birth support

  • Practical support to help you and mum just ‘be’ with baby can mean everything to some parents. Whether it be bringing in the food shopping, taking older children to school/picking them up, light cleaning- different doulas will offer different services so just talk through what your expectations might be when you are enquiring. Some families opt for a postnatal doula to come once you have returned to work. Help with baby whilst mum showers, their first outings (these can be very daunting without you there for the first time) and general help with confidence building can all be part of the ‘package’.

  • Emotional support is a big part of the postnatal doula service. Whether a mum has chosen to breastfeed, combination or bottle feed, we can guide mums around this hugely emotive stage and get them further support if needed

  • Having someone booked in to come and see them who isn’t expecting to be hosted can also be a relief too. The early stages of motherhood can be very lonely.

  • Every family will have different needs, so it’s important to talk through your expectations and hopes with your doula before you hire them.

You see the benefits, now how do you choose a doula?

It’s so important that both you and mum are 100% comfortable with your doula. We will expect an interview-like meeting and expect you to be meeting with at least 3-4 other doulas to see who is best suited to your needs. You need to click with their personalities and be at ease with sharing your baby’s birth experience with them. Even though it is an occupation, us doulas don’t see our support as a job. It’s a privilege and passion to support families throughout this incredible time in their lives so it’s just as important to us that the rapport is there too in order to be able to support parents fully and whole heartedly.

Before your meetings, prepare a list of questions and don’t worry about asking anything silly, we will have heard it before! We’d much rather you asked. We will also ask you questions back to gauge what your expectations are so that we can be confident we can meet them.

Up next

Part 16: We’re Meeting Baby Smith Next Month!

The Smith baby bump is now fully popped, there’s no denying I’m expecting a baby! So it feels like I’ve been telling more people about the situation than in previous months.

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