Wherever you are in your baby journey, whether you’re trying to conceive, or are due any day, you might have heard about the benefits of having a birth doula. Actress Amy Schumer sang the praises of Domino Kirke, a birth doula who helped deliver Amy’s baby boy.
“I was lucky enough to get to have a doula,” says Amy in a recent Instagram post. “Her name is Domino Kirke at Carriage House Birth. What do doulas do? I don’t totally know, but what she did was make me and Chris feel totally secure and supported throughout my pregnancy and the birth process. I really recommend getting one if you can.”
So exactly what is a and should you get one?
What is a doula?
What does doula mean? The word “doula” is a Greek word that means “female servant”. Back in ancient times, a maidservant would assist a pregnant woman in the delivery of the baby by getting her whatever she needed to be comfortable. She would provide back rubs, get water, wipe her forehead, and generally support her and be there for her emotionally.
So, in today’s world, what is a birth doula? In the 60s, when the natural birthing movement started to gain popularity and women began looking into a more holistic, natural approach to labour and delivery without medication and with low intervention, friends, relatives, and other female acquaintances would aid one another in this process, with great success.
"Doulas are women who provide social, emotional and practical support to pregnant, labouring and new mothers and their partners/families, and hope to inspire them with confidence and strength to navigate what can often be a challenging experience," says doulas Lou Toosey and Sarah Johnson from thebabyexperience.co.uk
"They have been professionally trained or have considerable relevant experience working with families in the perinatal and postpartum period."
What does a doula do?
"Above all, a doula is there to support the mother in whatever way she is required. She needs to be knowledgeable about birth and newborn babies, and offer the parents her unconditional non-judgemental regard in their unique decision-making processes, throughout pregnancy, birth and the early days with their newborn," says Sarah.
Doulas may also have extra specialisms such as rebozo scarf work, acupressure or a breastfeeding qualification.
What is a birth doula?
"A birth doula normally meets with the mother early on in her pregnancy and gets to know her and her family. They have regular meetings and are in touch for the doula to answer questions and give advice as required. A birth doula will be on call to attend the labour and birth of the baby be it at home or hospital, vaginal or caesarean birth," explains Lou. "She will help with massage, gentle encouragement and suggesting different comfort measures. Sometimes her role is described as “holding space” for the labouring mother. The birth doula is also likely to meet with the new family at least twice after their baby is born to offer help and support."
What is a postnatal doula?
A postnatal doula is normally employed to help the new mother after her baby is born in whatever way is required. "The role may be thought of as 'mothering the mother'. She is there to help mother and baby to bond and recover," says Sarah. "Her aim is for the mother to feel confident in feeding choices and baby care skills. A postnatal doula’s day may see her tidying up, keeping the laundry going and making warming, nourishing meals, as well as listening to parents and helping them to grow in confidence to manage and enjoy their new situation."
Birth Doula vs Midwife
There is a common misconception that a birth doula is a replacement for a midwife or a birth doctor. This is in no way true. A doula birth partner isn’t a substitute for your medical birthing professional, but rather, a support system for the mother.
“Both a midwife and a doula are there to emotionally and physically respond to the labouring woman’s needs. However, crucially a doula is not medically qualified and should not provide any clinical care and has no responsibility for decision making. She is governed only by what the mother wants and needs and what is required to help her achieve this," explains Lou. "The midwife is responsible for the woman’s and baby's health and safety and needs to follow the best medical practice, up-to-date hospital protocol and policies."
What a doula WILL do:
- Provide emotional support to help you through the process
- Provide physical support, often massaging and helping you stay comfortable
- Help your partner through the process also
- Get you whatever you need, be it water, music, pillows, etc.
- Listen to you and your wants/needs, and be your voice
What a doula WON’T do:
- Provide medical advice
- Provide professional medical assistance
- Get in the way of your doctor or midwife
- Make any decisions for you
What are the benefits of having a doula?
Women around the globe have been raving about the birth doula benefits for years. Dr. John H. Kennell, the doctor of pediatrics, researcher and advocate of infant bonding, said of doulas, “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”
Here are just 10 of the brilliant reasons why hiring a doula for birth is a decision you won’t regret.
During your prenatal doula visits, your doula will take the time to listen to you and find out your wants, needs, and desires for your perfect birth. During labour and delivery, she will be your tough advocate and see to it that your needs, requirements, and personal preferences are met throughout the entire procedure.
2) Your birth doula will make sure your birth plan is followed down to a T
She will have spent enough time with you to know your birth plan completely and know what you like and don’t like, and what aspects are especially important to you.
“I can be there to gently remind the partner about aspects of a birthing plan that’s important to the mum,” says Samsara, who has four children of her own and has attended over 200 births. “For example, if you don’t like needles, doulas can speak up for you.”
3) You’ll feel prioritised and listened to
Especially if it’s your first birth, being in a hospital with doctors and nurses running around all over the place, and being in an inordinate amount of pain at the same time as possibly feeling petrified of what’s happening to your body, with people prodding and poking you like you’re some kind of lab rat, can be incredibly daunting.
even noted “the growing recognition of neglectful, abusive, and disrespectful treatment of women during childbirth in health facilities.”
This is the last thing you need during what is potentially one of the scariest times of your life, but you can forget all about that if you’ve got a birth doula by your side. She’ll be there for you and will go above and beyond to make sure that you are listened to and cared for and that all your needs are met.
When in labour, you’ll need help. Help getting up, help sitting down, help switching sides on the bed, help getting to the loo, help on the exercise ball, assistance in and out of the birth pool… Your doula will be your physical human crutch the entire time.
4) You’ll have a helping hand and physical support when you need it most
She’ll give you water, and ice chips, and make sure you’re not too hot or cold, and she’ll create a calm and soothing environment for you based on your personal preference, whether it’s having candles or music, or even dim lighting. She knows what you want and she’ll do her best to make sure you get it.
“Everyone deserves to have a doula,” Samsara says. “We help women during childbirth in a number of ways, which can include talking to them calmly during the labour or giving a massage.”
5) You’ll have your own personal masseuse
This needed to have its own bullet point. Massage during labour is proven
to ease pain and discomfort and your doula knows all the right points to rub to make you feel better. She’ll massage your back, and even your swollen feet.
You can almost think of it like a mini-spa day. In addition to it feeling good, one study found
that massage therapy during labour leads to “shortening of the first and second stage labour duration” and that “by shortening the duration of labour, pregnant women tend to have more normal vaginal delivery.”
8) Birth doulas are advocates for what you want
The concept of a birth doula is a fundamentally holistic approach to labour and delivery. Doulas believe in the power of intuition and listening to and trusting your body. If this method is something you aspire to for your delivery, a doula is the way to go.
She will help guide you to stay in touch with your body during this time. In addition, many people who want to go au naturel opt for a home birth
, mindful birthing, or a doula water-birth as a lot of doulas have experience in these techniques. Having said that, even if you want an epidural and all the drugs possible, your doula will, of course, make sure that all your wishes are adhered to.
9) A postnatal doula can support you even after the baby is born (fourth trimester)
Most doctors and midwives disappear shortly after the birth, but for a lot of mothers, that’s exactly when they feel the most vulnerable
, overwhelmed, and alone.
Your doula could still be around to help you through this process and to answer any pressing questions or queries. Most doulas have expertise in helping mothers in the critical fourth trimester
, but if not, she will surely be able to refer you to a postnatal doula/postpartum doula to help you through this difficult transitional period.
Are doulas insured?
Doulas should have their own insurance that covers them for Public Liability & Professional Indemnity. A doula is also likely to offer clients a written contract.
How much does a doula cost?
"The price of a birth doula depends on your postcode, the level of services and experience of the doula, but the average range is between £500-2000," says Sarah.
"Similarly, the price of a postnatal doula also depends on your postcode, and they can charge between £10-35 an hour."
How do I find a doula?
Use a website that has checked and verified the qualifications of their doulas. Here are some helpful resources when looking for a birth doula in the UK: -
"It is a good idea to interview several and contact their referees to make sure you find the right person to fit your family at this momentous time," recommends Lou.
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