What is a doula and how can they help you?
The Cambridge dictionary describes a doula as ‘a person, usually a woman, who is not medically trained but who gives help and support to a woman during pregnancy and during and after the birth of her baby’. But what does that actually look like in real life?
As a doula, I will meet with my client 2-3 times during their pregnancy in their home. During these visits we will go over their expectations for the birth so I can understand the type of birth experience they hope to achieve. After we talk about their expectations and wants, I will offer evidence-based information and some childbirth education to assist them in creating their birth plan. The childbirth education I offer is more of a mini version of proper childbirth classes, I would still highly recommend all my clients do some form of childbirth education class (online or in-person) if they can. We will discuss comfort measures for labour to have a calm, peaceful birth. As well as how you can prepare mentally and physically for a calm birth.
These visits can also cover things that you might be afraid of (past experiences, fear of the unknown etc.), things that would be beneficial for you to deal with before you give birth. We will also be building a relationship during the prenatal period, so when you go into labour, I am a familiar and friendly face there to support you. Whenever you feel you need me, whether that is your home, the hospital/birthing centre or the side of the road, I will be there. If I meet you at your home, I can help you figure out when it is a good time to transition to the hospital/birth centre, then I will follow you to the birthing location. I be emotionally supporting you by offering words of advice, encouragement and affirmations. Physically supporting you by offering things like massage, helping with different positions and acupressure. I say offering because some people may not like certain things in birth so we can try them and if they aren’t working for you, we will move on. I want to add in here that I will never be offended if you don’t like certain things, please speak up and we can change what is happening. You are the most important person in the room and your comfort and well-being is my priority.
Typically, I will stay 1-2 hours after birth. This depends on how the birth has gone and how well you are doing, usually I will accompany you to the postnatal ward (if applicable) and then leave when you are settled. If you are breastfeeding, I can stay to help ensure baby is latching well and that you are comfortable. If you are formula feeding, I can help you with bottle prep and stay for the first feed. Or maybe you would like to be alone with baby and your partner for the golden hours, in which case I can leave soon after birth. Finally, I will do one last visit to debrief your birth, make sure feeding is going well, ensure you’re coping well emotionally, provide recommendations for professionals like lactation consultants (if applicable.
Let’s end with some fabulous statistics for Bohren et al (2017) about why having a doula is a great idea.
For two of these outcomes (designated with asterisks*), the best results occurred when a birthing person had continuous labour support from a doula– someone who was NOT a staff member at the hospital and who was NOT part of their social network. The researchers found that overall, people who have continuous support during childbirth experience a:
- 25% decrease in the risk of Caesarean; the largest effect was seen with a doula (39% decrease)*
- 8% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth; the largest effect was seen with a doula (15% increase)*
- 10% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief; the type of person providing continuous support did not make a difference
- Shorter labors by 41 minutes on average; there is no data on if the type of person providing continuous support makes a difference
- 38% decrease in the baby’s risk of a low five-minute Apgar score; there is no data on if the type of person providing continuous support makes a difference
- 31% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience; mothers’ risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience was reduced with continuous support provided by a doula or someone in their social network (family or friend), but not hospital staff
Photo credit: Lauren Jolly Photography