Of all the ways you’re considering making your birth work for you, having a doula could have the biggest payoff. If you’re considering a doula, our advice can help you decide, plus read advice from a real doula on how you might benefit from another experienced pair of hands at the labour
Working out just what you can do to make your labour set up work for you can seem like a full-scale project. And while your birth plan and antenatal classes do help, what about real support on the day?
You may have faith that your birth partner(s) are all the support you need. But if you’re anxious, getting over a difficult birth or just not too sure how you and your partner will cope in the moment, it could worth paying for some extra help.
What is a birth doula?
The word doula is derived from the Greek for ‘woman caregiver’ – so, if you’re looking for extra support, emotional or physical, during your pregnancy and birth then a doula’s your first port of call.
‘A doula is there to support the mother, meet her needs and provide constant reassuring,’ says Himalee Rupesinge, Recognised Birth Doula (Doula UK). 'It’s a bit like the mothering of the mother.'
The benefits of a birth doula
And a doula could well be worth the investment – research has revealed the support that a doula provides can shorten first-time labour by an average of two hours, decrease the need of a C-section by 50 per cent and lowers your chance of needing strong pain relief.
This stands whether you’re already a mum and want to improve on what happened last time round or you’re a first timer in the labour ward.
‘Perhaps the most crucial role of the doula is providing continuous emotional reassurance and comfort,’ says Himalee. ‘While the midwives caring for you may change during your labour, your doula will remain by your side for the whole time.’
How much does a doula cost?
The cost of a doula can range from £500 to £1000 depending on how long you hire her for. Some women pay their doula for support before, during and after the birth, whereas others might want her support focused on the main event.
If you like the idea of having a doula but don’t think you can afford it, Doula UK runs a fund to cover the cost of doulas who work for clients in their local community.
We talk to Samsara Tanner, who has been a birthing doula for 25 years and is a certified member of Doula UK. She has four children and has attended more than 200 births.
“Research has shown having a doula present during the birth can reduce the chance of an epidural.
“In my experience, a lot of women who are scared want an epidural as they think they need pain relief right away and are frightened of how they’re feeling. A doula can calm them, help them focus on breathing techniques and move them past that scared point.
‘Doula’ is a Greek word for care-giver
“Doulas are not midwives. ‘Doula’ is a Greek word for care-giver. We have no specific medical training and will not give medical advice or instruction during birth. A midwife’s job is to focus on the safe delivery of the baby, whereas a doula’s job is to support the mother emotionally. There are two types of doulas – birth and postnatal.
“Everyone deserves to have a doula. We help women during childbirth in a number of ways, which can include talking to them calmly during the labour or giving a massage. I can be there to gently remind the partner about aspects of a birthing plan that’s important to the mum. For example, if you don’t like needles, doulas can speak up for you.
“Midwives often have other patients, paperwork to do, or their shifts end. For lots of reasons, they come and go during the labour, whereas doulas are there throughout. Research has shown that having a doula throughout labour can reduce the risk of having a c-section. According to studies, 12.5% of doula-assisted births result in a c-section, compared to the national rate of 25.5%*.
I’m on call for 24 hours a day, seven days a week from week 37 onwards
“When a woman contacts me I will meet with her and her partner a couple of times to discuss what sort of birth she wants. I speak at length to them both about the kind of experience they want and try to allay any fears the partner might have about the birth. I’m then on call for 24 hours a day, seven days a week from week 37 onwards, and never more than an hour away. I make sure they keep in good contact so they can call me at the first sign of any niggle or once labour is established.
“I assist in C-sections and natural births. During a natural birth I can be as hands on as needed – holding Mum’s hand or checking she’s had enough to drink for instance. For a c-section, I’m often more of a support to the man, who can be very daunted.
“Every labour is different. My advice is not to over-educate yourself. You can’t know what sort of labour you’re going to have.
“It’s good to want a particular birth, like a water birth or you want to try hypnobirthing, but don’t be too weighed down by the details.
“A postnatal doula comes in after the birth and will help the mum with any issues, such as breastfeeding or getting into a routine. Each postnatal doula is different. It’s important to choose the right one for you. Some will be happy to cook, while others prefer to concentrate on helping Mum get into a routine. Most postnatal doulas visit for up to six weeks after the birth.
“After the birth it’s important to have a cut-off point. I stay with the mother for two to three hours after the birth, or once they feel settled. Then I meet a week later for a completion session of my time with the mother.”
Thinking of having a doula?
Visit doula.org.uk, who will put you in touch with doulas near you. Don’t necessarily choose the one with the most experience or the one who might have done the most training courses. Follow your instincts and gut feeling.
*MIDIRS Midwifery Digest 24:2 2014