The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek for servant or handmaiden. A doula is a trained non-medical professional whose role it is to offer continuous support, physically, emotionally and advisory, to women before, during and/or after the birth. They are there for the mother and have a particular focus on facilitating the best possible birth experience on the day, and help ensure the mother’s wishes are heard and followed.
There are two types of doulas, although many fall under both categories. A birth doula starts working with Mums whilst they are pregnant, spending time getting to know her, finding out her wishes for birth and helping her form a birth plan for the big day. Knowing the mother’s wishes inside out, she will be present during the birth to offer one-to-one support during labour, working hard to achieve the best birth on the day for the woman. A birth doula will also help to keep Mum active during labour, suggesting positions to adopt and sometimes also massaging and making sure she is fed and watered.
A postnatal doula steps up after the birth to help care for the mother during her recovery phase, as well as helping parents look after their newborn baby. They quite often have expertise in breastfeeding, which can be one of the most stressful and challenging issues for a new family based on personal observations.
Why Might You Consider a Doula?
There are several reasons why you might want to consider working with a doula through pregnancy and birth. If you are finding your maternity service inconsistent, and seeing a different midwife each time is unnerving for you, a doula could provide a familiar face throughout your pregnancy and birth, which can be both reassuring and comforting. It has been found that “continuous support in labour may improve a number of outcomes for both mother and baby… Continuous support from a person who is present solely to provide support, is not a member of the woman’s own network, is experienced in providing labour support, and has at least a modest amount of training (such as a doula), appears beneficial.”
Having a doula work with you through your pregnancy also means there will be a trained advocate in the birthing room who knows exactly what your intentions are for birth. This can come in use at times when Mum and/or birth partner are losing their head and/or tired and not feeling as though they are able to communicate their wishes rationally.
If you have had a previous birth experience or other life trauma, a doula could provide the sensitive support and care required to help you through your birth, and could potentially help you to achieve spontaneous labour.
How Does a Doula Work?
Birth doulas will typically meet their client several times during their pregnancy, and then usually around 38 weeks they will go “on call” and be available around the clock. When asked, they will join the Mum-to-be at whatever stage of labour they are requested, and this will typically be before the transfer to hospital, or when the midwives are called to a home birth, although some Mums-to-be prefer their doula to be there before that to help with breathing techniques amongst other things.
A postnatal doula will be on hand to help the parents look after the baby, which is very different from actually looking after the baby. They may help with light chores (within reason!) around the house to help the whole family settle in and bond, and they can also be a great reassurance for first time families who wonder and question all kinds of issues with their newborns: are they dressing them in too few/too many clothes? Are they feeding enough? Are they latching on correctly? Are they meant to sleep so much/so little? And much much more!