How a doula can support you in labour, birth and the postpartum

Pregnancy can be a time of great joy for many women, but at times it can bring up  worries, fears or stress. A doula can help you get the most out of your pregnancy and birth allowing you to experience the joy and adventure of becoming a mother, perhaps for the first time. A doula can also listen guide and help you when you are feeling stressed, or when you have difficult decisions to make during your pregnancy. In actual terms this means that you will have someone to contact during your pregnancy on the phone or by email and to discuss how things are progressing and how pregnancy is unfolding for you.

But a doula is not just there for the mother to be. The doula is there for the partner and for the baby too! Most of the families I support will comment afterwards that the support given to the partner was equally as important as the support given to the mother. There is a lot expected of the partner in the pregnancy and birth process. You need to be able to make decisions and offer the right kind of support about a topic you probably know very little about. Having a doula there takes all the stress off your shoulders. It means that you don’t have to worry about whether you fully understood what the midwife said in the antenatal session, it means you will always have someone there to talk things through with you, it means that you wont have to have the responsibility of knowing all the answers. It means that you will feel empowered to ask the right questions for yourself and your partner.

When labour starts, you wont have to wonder when the right time to go to the hospital is, or when to fill the pool at home. You won’t have to worry about how you’ll get your partner into the car, how to help her during the journey to hospital. When you arrive in the hospital your doula will know where to go, and an experienced doula will know some of the staff and this will help you feel at ease. During the labour and birth, your doula will help you get the most out of your experience and will guide you in supports and comfort measures that you can offer your birthing partner.

Giving birth is an amazing thing to do, and as with all great achievements it requires a certain amount of planning preparation and focus. You doula will help both you and your partner during this rite of passage. She will come to you antenatally in your own home and get to know you and your partner. She will suggest coping skills and reading materials for you to find out more about what you need to know in labour and birth. In early labour she will come to you at home and you focus on your coping skills. She will then be there in hospital too if you are having a hospital birth. She will be the link with all your preparation before the birth to all that is happening in the birthing suite on the big day.

And if you go over your dates your doula will be a constant source of support during this time, which can be stressful and challenging for many women. I find that many first time mothers will go over a guess date and its great being able to rely on someone to keep you relaxed and who has a lot of proactive suggestions as to how to ensure that you go into labour normally, or alternatively to support you in requesting more time from your health care professionals.

Every woman has her own feelings and thoughts about pregnancy and it is good to explore these with someone. It may be that the fear is unfounded or based on inaccurate information, or it may be that you are so busy with an older child that you have not had the opportunity to focus on this pregnancy. A doula is there to hold the space for you to assess, explore, and find your own inner wisdom to be well in pregnancy labour and birth no matter what the particular circumstances are. Doulas have no vested interest in why type of birth you are having; their focus is on you feeling well both emotionally and physically.

After the birth your doula will be there to offer breastfeeding support . She will also be available on the phone and by email for all your new mother queries. For many new mothers this relieves so much of the stress of having the responsibility of a new born baby after what can be very minimal hospital stays. Many women for example leave hospital these days before their milk has come in, so breastfeeding challenges can often arise when they are at home without midwifery support.

The research shows us that birth outcomes are also improved if you have a doula with you. The book by Klaus et al. discuss how labour support reduces the rate of caesarean sections, length of labour, need for pain medicine, and number of episiotomies and they demonstrate the positive effects of having a doula on mother-infant bonding.

Klaus, M. H., Kennell, J. H., Klaus, P. H. (2012). Mothering the mother : how a doula can help you have a shorter, easier and healthier birth. Reading MA Addison, Wesley.

Their work cites the following:

  • 50% reduction in the caesarean rate
  • 25% shorter labour
  • 60% reduction in epidural requests
  • 40% reduction in oxytocin use
  • 30% reduction in analgesia use
  • 40% reduction in forceps delivery

They also found that 6 weeks after the birth mothers who used a doula were:

  • Less anxious and depressed
  • Had more confidence with baby
  • More satisfied with partner (71% v 30%)
  • More likely to be breastfeeding (52% v 29%)

For more information on evidenced based research and doulas click here

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