What is a doula and why will having one help me? This guest post is from Sophie at Nurturing Birth.
There is nothing new about doulas, though many people have not come across the term before. I am often misheard and assumed to be either a jeweler or a dealer! For millennia, as women were birthing their babies, the experienced women of the village were there to provide reassurance and support. They weren’t medically trained, as midwives are now, but had seen it all before. Sadly most midwives working within the NHS system are under incredible time pressures, expected to look after several women at once, complete copious amounts of paperwork and work within the restrictions of hospital policy and protocols. They cannot provide continuous care in most models of maternity provision and many mothers report not meeting the midwife who is with them at the birth of their baby before the day of labour itself. As the midwife role has morphed the need for someone to provide emotional, practical and information support has grown. Doulas are independent, employed by parents during pregnancy, and are non-medical. A doula is able to support parents in making informed choices pertinent to their situation, using up-to-date research-based evidence. She is non-judgmental – she shouldn’t be foisting her personal opinons on you, so just as likely to support a couple through an elective caesarean as she is to be at a home waterbirth.
In pregnancy, women and their partners tend to have a lot of questions – about birth itself and also about parenthood. There are so many things to consider, which midwives rarely have time to answer. A doula has the time and is able to listen and signpost, helping families to find their feet, to gain confidence and feel empowered as they move towards the birth. Whilst antenatal preparation classes offer a social aspect they are rarely able to focus on each woman’s individual needs – the doula is able to offer something much more personalised, recognizing that birth is different for everyone. Many doulas are qualified to offer further support such as hypnobirthing, complementary therapies, massage or feeding support. The birth “package” will vary from doula to doula, and so therefore will the cost. An inexperienced doula starting out might be charging a couple of hundred pounds, whereas an experienced doula offering additional services will probably charge an average of £1000, depending on the area in which she works (doulas tend to charge more in the major cities). There are a few organisations in the UK that offer voluntary doulas for those who struggle financially, including Birth Companions who provide support to women in prison!
It is a sad fact that many people don’t hire a doula until it comes to their second birth. It isn’t until they experience the reality of birth in an NHS setting that they realise the benefits. Many people question the need for a doula if the partner is going to be at the birth. But how many people, men or women, have been in a similar situation before? They are often out of their depth and full of emotion given that this is the day that their baby arrives. A doula is there to support the entire family, to enable everyone to be the best possible version of themselves – she can be hands-on, providing soothing massage and other comfort measures, or she can step away and facilitate the partner offering loving touch, whilst ensuring that the environment the couple are in is calm and positive. She is also familiar with the birth setting so able to reassure and advocate for the birthing mother if necessary.
Let’s not forget the postnatal doula! Birth is an amazing event, but it is over relatively quickly. In recovering from the birth a mother also has to learn to care for her new baby/babies. A doula will be there to provide the support that women used to expect of their families and community in times gone by. She can boost confidence as the new mother learns how to respond to her baby/babies’ needs, recovers from the birth and finds her feet. Doulas have great contacts and will be able to signpost anything from babywearing consultants to feeding counselors to complementary practitioners. She can enable the new mum to get some much-needed rest, can help practically in the home with chores and looking after older siblings.
Being a doula is the most rewarding job possible – leaving a new family who have found their feet and are enjoying the challenges of parenting is the best feeling imaginable. And training doulas to enjoy the same is even better!
Sophie Brigstocke is a birth and postnatal doula working in SW London. She co-runs Nurturing Birth , training and supporting doulas across the UK, Europe and beyond. Nurturing Birth has a Directory for anyone who offers services in pregnancy/birth/postnatal/infant feeding. For more information about doula courses, doula support or listing on the Nurturing Birth Directory please email firstname.lastname@example.org