If you’re pregnant right now, there are plenty of reasons to consider using a doula to help you with your unfolding journey. A Greek word, ‘doula’ refers to a trained person (most often a woman) who provides support, guidance and advocacy for parents-to-be throughout pregnancy, labour and birth, as well as into the postpartum period. A good doula can provide invaluable emotional support at a time known for its demands and change, and can make this time a truly magical one for you and your partner.
While she is trained to help you throughout your pregnancy and labour, a birth doula is not typically from a medical background, although she will know the ins and outs of what you’re going through in your pregnancy, and what you can expect during the birth. But rather than inform you, a good doula’s primary job is to support you to get the type of birth you really want. In fact, using a birth doula has been linked with more positive birth outcomes, including shorter labour and lower rates of intervention.
By meeting with a birth doula while you’re pregnant, she can help you and your partner identify how you’d like the birth to go and come up with a birth plan most likely to get you there. Because of her experience, your doula will know your hospital thoroughly, including their policies and procedures when it comes to birthing – only she isn’t bound by these procedures so can advocate for you without being tied to the ways things ‘should’ go. A doula can ask questions of your medical team that you might not feel comfortable voicing, and she’ll make sure that the answers that come back are clear and comprehensive.
Your birth doula will attend your birth to support you and your partner, and advocate to hospital staff about your choices and how you’d prefer things to go. This can be invaluable at a time when you’re feeling vulnerable and tired – by letting your doula take care of the details, you can concentrate on progressing through your labour and giving birth to your baby. Your doula’s actual support role in the birth suite is up to you and your partner. She can take a back seat and simply step in when your partner needs to take a break, or she can be your main support person while you labour if this is preferable for you and your partner.
Many birth doulas are also trained as postnatal doulas, although you don’t need to have used a birth doula to enlist the support of a postnatal doula when you arrive home with your baby. In fact, using a postnatal doula in the first few weeks of motherhood can provide excellent support for new parents with limited family around to help. The role of a postnatal doula can vary, but essentially her focus is on your transition to motherhood and ensuring that your wellbeing remains healthy. This could mean helping out with running your household, such as preparing meals and dealing with laundry while you tend to your baby, but she can also guide you with baby care and breastfeeding, as well as providing you with emotional support while you adjust to your new role.
While a good doula can enhance your birth experience and transition to motherhood, you need to do your research and interview your potential doulas thoroughly to ensure the fit is right for you. Ask for the details of her training, and make sure your prospective doula understands your hopes and wishes for your birth. This is a special and highly personal time for you, so both you and your partner need to be happy with the doula you choose to share it with.
You can find out more about doulas by visiting Find a Doula