What do Doulas do? Often I meet people in the street and they ask what I do. Often I’m met with “Oh a jeweller! Cool, are you wearing any of your work?” or “Do you mean something like fencing where you fight people?”… Alas, no! (My mum is an awesome jeweller though!)
I’m Amanda, a birth and postnatal Doula. The word originates from the Greek language and used to mean “slave woman” which overtime became “servant woman” and is now “support woman”. Essentially, a Doula supports women and couples during their pregnancy, at their birth and in the postpartum period, providing continuity of care in their journey to meet their new baby. I always feel honoured that a couple who were effectively strangers invite me into such a personal time in their lives. It’s a privilege I don’t take lightly, or for granted. Your baby will only be born once and as a Doula, I do everything to help make sure it is the best possible experience you can have.
So, what do Doulas do?
A Doula works alongside your medical team – whether it’s your midwife, GP or obstetrician – and plays a very different part to them at your birth. A Doula is a non-medical role – there to support you emotionally, physically and informatively. Usually you meet them for an obligation free interview, a kind of “get to know you” chat. This is really important as if you’re going to invite them to your birth – one of life’s most intimate moments – you want to feel 100% comfortable in their presence. You need to be able to speak your mind, share your feelings and not hold back what you really think!
How does it all work?
After the initial meet up, if you wish to proceed from there, you arrange a coupe of further prenatal meetings. At these you discuss your preferences around birth (all your hopes and wishes) and the Doula goes over with you what your options are. I truly believe that you have choice and evidence based information is important. From this conversation the Doula creates a birth plan (AKA birth preferences – as things don’t always go to plan!) and sends it to you. This is an important step as it means should something not go to plan at your birth, you understand why. There will be a medical reason why things will deviate from your preferences, and you won’t have trauma around them after the birth. The birth plan is something I can use as a Doula in the hospital setting to advocate for you – for your wishes – and to make sure you consent to anything that strays from this. You’ll take this plan to your pregnancy care provider to sign off on during your pregnancy, so there are no surprises about your requests at the birth. It will give you a chance to discuss anything out of the ordinary with them, or anything that may clash with your wishes – like potentially hospital policy.
What do they help with?
With your Doula, you also discuss your fears around birth and address any concerns or queries that you may have around the process, and what happens next. You’ll talk about natural things you can do to be in optimum shape and condition to birth your baby, and can even go over some positions for birth, breathing techniques and visualisations. Though of course, you may have already done this in your independent birthing classes. Importantly, it’s spending more time getting to know your Doula (and vice versa!) and feeling more comfortable and at ease in their presence.
When does a Doula’s work begin?
From 38 to 42 weeks gestation (ie your due month), the Doula is on call for you. You can contact them 24/7 with concerns, queries, questions, and importantly if you think you’re in labour. The Doula then attends your birth with you. If you’re low risk, your hospital may even offer you access to a homebirth or their birthing centre instead of the delivery suite – and the Doula can support you and your partner in your labour and your birth in all of these locations.
The Doula Toolkit!
For me, to each birth, I take my giant Doula toolkit (or some say a bag of tricks!). This includes lots of things like motivation and encouragement, massage and acupressure, essential oils and homeopathy, rebozo techniques, photography and more… Most importantly, I truly believe in you and your ability to birth your baby. As a non-biased support person, our Doula is there for you no matter what and will back you in your choices. The Doula can provide you with lots of information so that you totally understand the risks around the decisions you make. I strive to ensure that you are 100% present for your journey, that you consent to every step of the process, and that if this deviates from your birth plan, you fully understand why. Given in 2018 we have postnatal depression rates of something like 1 in 7 women, 1 in 16 partners and PTSD in 1 in 10 new mums, I truly believe that having a Doula is a massive step towards improving these numbers.
And after the birth?
You’ll meet your Doula after the birth to debrief your experience. It’s the chance for you to own your story and having been at your birth, they can help you to fill in any gaps. Often during a birth, time is warped and it can be hard to judge how long there was between each event or even which part came first. Debriefing is an important step to ensure you have no question unanswered or “stone left unturned” so to speak. I can also help you with feeding and settling techniques, and go through an approximate “what to expect” for a 24 hour cycle with your newborn baby (not quite a routine).
In this postnatal Doula role, we call it “mothering the mother” and so I do whatever it is that you need to best be able to look after your baby. I can help you fold a load of laundry, hold the baby so you can shower, cook a nutritious meal and even pick up some groceries for you on my way. And if you don’t have much support around, you can book additional postpartum Doula sessions with me too. My role encompassing all Doula services, is varied and allows me to offer a true range of support for you in so many different ways.