Doulas – why you might want one at your birth

If you're very worried about labour and giving birth, hiring a doula might be just what you need to help you relax. But who exactly is a doula?

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Did you know that there’s a type of woman out there who can help care for you before, during and after labour, providing the support that previously might have been given by other women in your extended family? She’s called a doula.

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The word is Greek for servant, but it’s evolved to mean a woman experienced in childbirth who provides emotional and practical support to another woman at this time. She’s not a midwife, however.

What does a doula do?

A doula provides a continuity of support and care that, unfortunately, can often be lacking today, despite a midwives’ best efforts. She aims to allow the mum-to-be to feel more empowered and make the experience of labour and birth as positive as it can be.

You might need to contact and meet several doulas before you find one you feel is right for you. It should be someone with whom you feel totally at ease and can share any fears and hopes about your birth.

What happens at the start of pregnancy?

Together you’ll discuss a ‘birth plan’ and how the doula can support and help you make clear decisions about your pregnancy, labour and birth. She can also encourage your partner to get involved by suggesting ways he can help you relax, such as with massage and breathing techniques.  Your doula will see or speak to you regularly during your pregnancy, and you’ll contact her when you’re in labour.

She’s well informed, understanding the physiology of birth, and will help you and your partner make informed decisions about the choices available. During labour she’ll help by encouraging you to change positions and reassure you both throughout. She can be ‘your voice’ at a time when you may feel too vulnerable to put across to the midwife the issues that are important to you about your care.

What is a doula’s role during pregnancy?

In an ideal world you shouldn’t need to pay someone to support you around the birth of your baby. Part of a midwife’s role is that of an advocate – that is, to offer support and help you to have the sort of birth experience you want. Unfortunately, not all women get continuity from their midwife and end up seeing lots of different midwives and doctors during their pregnancy. So it can be difficult to find one person with whom they feel they can develop a rapport.

But even if you’ve never met the midwife who will care for you in labour, she should still offer support and help you have the best possible birth experience. If it’s important to you to know the midwife who will care for you in labour, you can ask your community midwife if she would try to look after you when you give birth.

What support does a doula offer?

As people increasingly move away from their extended families, they look for another female to support them when they’re having their baby. Research has shown that the constant presence of a supportive birth companion is one of the most effective forms of care women can receive during childbirth, and is associated with:

  • Feeling more in control of labour
  • Less pain relief
  • Slightly shorter labour
  • Fewer forceps and ventouse deliveries
  • Fewer caesarean sections

What does a doula do after birth?

A doula can continue to visit you several weeks after the birth, providing extra support. She may even offer help with household chores as well as practical assistance with your baby and breastfeeding.
For more info, log on to Doula.

You and your doula – A real life experience from both sides

“Some of the women I’ve cared for have been keen on a natural home birth, but their partners felt worried. The extra support from another female has helped both of them to relax and enjoy the experience. I don’t feel I’m intruding – I’m offering support and encouragement. Some enquiries are from women who’ve already had a poor experience of childbirth, and this time feel as though they need an extra person with them who they can trust to be a voice for them.”

Maggie Howell, doula

“I was keen on a home birth, but was told that when I went into labour I would be cared for by two ‘on-call’ midwives, who I wouldn’t have met, which I didn’t feel was ideal. Having Maggie there, and already having met her, meant that we both felt secure and had continuity of support. I had the most fantastic birth experience, and I feel that Maggie played a big part in it.”

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Emma Monk, from Cambridge, who contacted Maggie Howell to be her doula for the birth of her first baby.

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