What is a doula? Most people will answer that question with a blank stare. Some may reply with the misconception that a doula is some sort of newfangled birth guru, a trendy accessory for yummy mummies with too much time and money on their hands. In reality, the role performed by a doula is as old as the term itself (doula is an ancient Greek word meaning womanservant). A doula is a woman — usually a mother herself — who offers consistent emotional and practical support to a woman and her family around the time of pregnancy, childbirth, and the early postnatal period.
In most cultures, a pregnant woman can rely on female friends, relatives, and neighbours to help her ease the transition to motherhood, and until recently, that was still the case in the west. However, as our society has become more industrialised and ‘civilised’, families have become fragmented, and maternity care has become increasingly hospital-based and institutionalised. From the moment a woman sees those thin blue lines on her positive pregnancy test, she and her partner are faced with a barrage of choices and questions about how to proceed. A doula can guide the woman through those choices, providing her with information, compassion, expertise, and — last but not least — good humour.
The question remains, what does a doula actually do? The answer to that is as varied as the women who undertake the role of the doula itself. Most doulas will meet with the client at least three to four times during pregnancy to discuss any previous pregnancies and/or births, the creation of a birth plan if desired, the partner’s role during labour, methods of pain relief, and postnatal issues such as breastfeeding and sleep management. Some doulas also provide complementary therapies such as reiki, aromatherapy, or hypnobirthing. Typically, the doula will then be on call for the client two weeks before her due date (to two weeks after, or whenever the baby arrives).
The doula will, of course, be present for labour and birth, providing the mother with moral support, verbal encouragement, help with positions and pain relief, advocacy when dealing with the medical staff, and also a bit of support and encouragement for the partner (if he is present). The degree of postnatal care depends on the mother’s requirements; most ‘birth doulas’ will provide at least one postnatal visit, but there are also doulas who specialise in postnatal care and can visit the client regularly in the early days and weeks of motherhood.
Finally, the benefits of hiring a doula are as varied and diverse as the doulas themselves. Research has shown that the presence of a doula during labour can cut the chance of caesarean section or other surgical delivery, decrease the mother’s need for pharmacological pain relief, increase mother-baby bonding, and shorten the average duration of first-time labour. Perhaps more importantly, having the constant support of another woman trained in childbirth can boost the confidence of first-time mums, and help provide a healing experience for second-time mums who may have had a previously traumatic birth. That kind of satisfaction isn’t just the preserve of ‘yummy mummies’ — it’s the right of every woman who is making the life-changing transition to motherhood.
by Leah Hazard.
Contact Doula UK to learn more about childbirth support or hire a doula.