Doula is one of those professions you may or may not have heard about, and perhaps even if you've heard about us, you are still not quite sure what we actually do. Some may assume it's just a new hip trend in the birthing world, to have someone called a Doula attend your birth, like an alternative way of going about it.
Well firstly, I would like to say that there is probably nothing new or hip about having a Doula at your birth. Throughout history, and in many cultures still today, it is, and has been, common practice for women to support each other during labour and birth. This could be in a family setting, where an older sister or mother, or a friend who is experienced in childbirth, will support a woman during her birth. Having an calm, experienced and trusted person by your side during birth can be incredibly comforting and helpful for you as a birthing mother, and feeling safe and calm is key in order for birth to progress the way it's meant to.
In many modern societies, we have unfortunately drifted far away from the naturalness of birth. It is often turned into a completely medicalized and managed process where women and their partners are too often left feeling a lack of control, lack of proper information and education in regards to how birth works and what their options are, and lack of support and understanding of their own needs and wishes.
So this is where the role of the Doula comes in.
A Doula is a birth professional who's job it is to support the mother and her partner (if applicable) during pregnancy, labour, birth and postpartum. The support provided by a Doula is different from that of a midwife or doctor. A midwife is a medical professional, and their number one job is to make sure that mother and baby are healthy and safe. They will do all the medical checks and other tasks related to that. A Doula on the other hand, is not a medical professional. While we do have extensive knowledge about how birth works, we are not there to give any medical advice in any way. Doulas are there in order to give birthing parents 100% of our unconditional support. We will provide emotional and physical support throughout the journey, to help parents have more positive birth experiences. Some of the things a Doula can help with are:
Being present, staying by your side, listening, validating feelings and needs.
Empowering you to make your own choices. Doulas are there for all kinds of birth, be it at home, in a hospital or birth center; medicated, non-medicated; vaginal or surgical; first-time moms or moms having their third or later child... Doulas won't tell you what to do, we will encourage you to look inside and find out what it is you want, and we will support you in whatever it is you decide is best for you, because we trust that you know yourself and your needs best.
Helping you create your birth plan.
Helping you find/receive information about your options in order to make informed decisions.
Providing you with birth education.
Empowering you to empower yourself. A Doula will not speak for you or give you their opinion, but we can remind you to speak up for yourself and ask questions when needed.
Facilitating helpful communication and understanding between you as a parent and the medical care provider.
Providing physical support during labour in the form of different comfort measures to help you cope with possible pain or discomfort in a natural way.
Providing emotional support and guidance to the partner/father when needed. A Doula will never replace the partner during labour and birth (unless this is desired by the parents of course), but will work together with the partner as a team so that each person can focus on being there and providing support in whichever way they feel comfortable and confident. The more supported and safe the mother feels, the more positive the birth experience is likely to be.
Doulas have a wide network of other doulas and birth professionals and are able to reach out for advice and suggestions when needed, for example if we don't have the right answer for you at the moment, we probably know someone else who does. Or if you want help to find a good pregnancy massage, lactation consultant, birth photographer, placenta encapsulation service, or similar, we are here to help you ask around.
The specifics of the support a Doula will provide to you depends largely on your own needs and wishes, which is why a Doula will meet with you before the birth to discuss what it is you need, what your expectations are, and how she can meet those needs to support you in the best way possible.
So then you might wonder, why get a Doula when I can just invite my friend, sister or mother to the birth? And for sure, if you have a trusted friend, sister, mother or partner whom you feel can support you in the right way and that will be enough for you, that is great! Whether you want a Doula or not is your choice, just like everything else related to your birth. But also like with everything else, this should be an informed choice. So at least know that the option exists, and then take it from there. Some of the main advantages of having having a Doula in addition to, or instead of, a friend or family member, is that a Doula is not as emotionally involved in you as a close friend or family member usually is, and can therefore be more objective. A Doula won't put their opinions and worries on you, which a friend or family member might. A Doula has knowledge and experience with birth which a friend or family member might not have in the same way, so we know what is happening and whether you are receiving all the necessary information. A Doula is also trained in labour comfort measures, something which a friend or family member might not be unless they attend a training for this, for example during a birth education course.
Research has shown that having a Doula present and receiving continuous support during birth is often related to positive outcomes such as:
Less need for pain medication
Fewer cases of surgical births
Shorter and smoother labours
Parents reporting more positive birth experiences
So if you are currently pregnant or planning to be soon, I invite you to at least research your options in all aspects. The key to a positive birth experience is trust in yourself, correct information, and the right support to make your own decisions. Just like you're making decisions about where to give birth, if you want to use pain medications or not, you may also want to consider whether or not you feel like having a Doula by your side would be a good option for you. If you do decide that you would like to consider a hiring a Doula, a good place to start is to look around for doulas in your area and contact a few to set up an appointment for an initial interview. It is important that you find the right Doula for you, someone who you feel comfortable with and who can provide the support that you are looking for.
Remember, giving birth is one of the most memorable things you will do in life. Do what you can to make that a positive memory. Treat the event with the importance it deserves by educating yourself, knowing your options and rights, planning ahead, choosing your support system, and making informed decisions.
You have the power. Doula is here to remind you.