What is a Birthing Doula?
I am asked this question so often! Very few people know what a doula is, yet anyone who is having a baby, or thinking about having a baby, should know about the incredible benefits a doula can bring to the birthing experience, for mum, baby and partner.
Very simply, a birthing doula is a trained professional whose only role is to support pregnant women and their partners through late pregnancy, birth and beyond. A doula will do all she can to give you the confidence and comfort you need for a wonderful birthing experience.
The word doula comes from the Greek for ‘women’s servant or caregiver’. The term began to be used in the 1960’s meaning a friend providing comfort during labour. In recent times, it has begun to be used for a group of professionals who provide much needed support for parents and babies.
Why Doulas are important
All of us feel some trepidation as the time for the birth of our baby comes near, but for some women giving birth can be a very scary prospect. We have all heard stories from friends and relatives that make us wonder how things will go for us, or have had previous birthing experiences that fill us with dread or outright fear.
When we arrive at the hospital, we are generally greeted by midwives and nurses we don’t know. We sometimes know our doctor, but birthing can be a long process, and the doctor that you know and trust will generally only be there for the final act – delivery.
Until then you are taken care of by the midwives, who are highly trained professionals. They have responsibility for your medical welfare, But they also have responsibility for other birthing mothers, hospital protocols, and paperwork.
So, while the nurses, midwives and doctors are – very rightly – taking care of your medical needs, sometimes your emotional needs can be neglected. This is where your doula steps in.
Your doula has only one responsibility. And that is to you and your baby. She will be by your side the whole time, providing you with emotional and physical support, comfort and encouragement throughout the whole wonderful, scary, miraculous experience.
Pregnancy and Doulas
A doula will work with you before your labour to understand what type of birth you would ideally like to have. She will help you understand what your options are, and what some of the unfamiliar terms the medical team might use mean. She will not tell you how to approach your birth, or try to influence your decision on things like pain management or interventions, but she will certainly try to help avoid the need for them.
Your doula can give you advice on how to make the final weeks of your pregnancy as comfortable as possible, so you can relax and enjoy the anticipation. She will provide advice on relieving back pain, managing Braxton Hicks contractions, what to take to the hospital and any other concerns you may have.
Childbirth can be difficult. It’s true. But it is also a wonderful, joyous experience. It should – and can be – the best experience of your life.
Once you are in labour your doula will be there to help with whatever you need. Advice on labouring positions that might provide relief, help with showering, heat packs, massage, or just calming your fears. She will be there to inform, support and empower you. And should things not go as you had planned, she will be there to provide comfort and help you understand your options. Her only aim is to ensure you have a positive birth experience and ultimately deliver a healthy happy baby and mum!
Whilst your doula will be on hand to decode some of the medial terminology that might be used, they will not give medical advice, or interfere in your decision making process. They will simply support you and your partner in making informed choices.
A word about Dads or partners
During birth dads or partners are often cast in the role of advocate for the birthing woman, and this can be confronting. They often feel unprepared, especially if things are not going as you expected them to. Yet some people are concerned a doula will replace the father or partner in the birthing process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your doula will help your partner understand what is happening, and provide them with the moral support, techniques and confidence they need to best help the labouring mum. And if your partner needs a breather or bathroom break, your doula will be there.
And after the Birth
Once your baby is safely delivered your doula will continue to provide you with support and information.
The early days as parents can be overwhelming. Sleep – even showering and eating – can sometimes seem like something you will never do again. Your doula will come to your home and take care of baby while you have a much needed rest, an uninterrupted shower, and even serve you a hot meal you haven’t had to cook yourself. Whatever support you need, your doula will provide including managing all those well meaning visitors!
New parents often wonder if the way their baby is behaving is ‘normal’. A doula can put your mind to rest and help you understand what falls into the enormous range of ‘normal’. She will let you know if she thinks there is something you should speak to a medical professional about.
Your doula can also help you with how you are feeling as new parents – both physically and emotionally – and give you confidence that you are not alone in the wildly fluctuating feelings you might be experiencing.
And if this is not your first baby, your doula can help your new arrival settle smoothly into your family.
If you have any questions about the role of a Doula, or would like more information, I would love to hear from you.