What is it that a Doula does?

By Sharon Pollard @doulapower.uk

Sharon is a mum of two and a birth and postnatal Doula.

Or should the question be what doesn’t a doula do?!  Well, a doula isn’t medical and it is the midwives that provide the medical care through pregnancy, labour, birth and the postpartum period. They work to keep mums and babies healthy, safe and low risk. A doula provides emotional, physical and informational support through the same period as a midwife. Midwives and doulas are both professionals working together to ensure you and your baby are fully support throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and postnatally. One important thing to remember, something so invaluable and powerful, is that doulas listen.

Develop a relationship with parents during antenatal sessions. It’s not just about Mum but about both parents’ role during labour and birth. A doula doesn’t take away power from either parent but helps them clarify what they want for the birth.

Overcomes fears and concerns. The fear of pain, losing control, medical intervention, nervousness and anxiety. A doula helps you navigate all these fears and provides you with evidence-based information to reassure you and empower you. Plan the birth you want, not the birth you fear.

Understands what is going to be the best support for you during your birth.  A doula is different to having your partner or midwife as we support you with physical comfort measures and ways to enhance your labour and birth experience.

Love. When you are in labour Oxytocin (the love hormone) is vital. Your body produces oxytocin when you feel secure, warm, cosy, protected and loved. You produce Oxytocin when you fall in love, make love and also when you breast feed. A doula helps provide that safe environment that lets the oxytocin flow for progressive labour. Oh and of course, I love my job!

Arriving when Mum is in labour and being present until baby is born. Being there to assist with the first breastfeed. Or as a postnatal doula it’s common to hear “you’ve arrived just in time” as there will definitely be days that are more of a struggle than others. Sleep deprivation, feeling overwhelmed, lacking in confidence and sometimes postnatal depression. These feelings are experienced by every new mother and a doula gives a mother the time and support to discover what parent they want to be.

Support with feeding. Understanding the early cues that baby is hungry – stirring from their sleep, mouth opening, turning head to seek/root. The mid cues of I’m really hungry – stretching, increased movement, hand to mouth and the late cues that mean calm me, I need feeding – crying, agitated movements, red in the face.  Is baby having a problem with feeding?  Breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone and that’s ok.  A doula doesn’t judge, but simply supports a mother’s decision.

Listen in antenatal sessions to understand what the parents think labour and birth are. A good doula actively listens to then clarify what the parents’ wishes are. Understanding their fears, hopes and expectations for the birth. Listen when a new mother says she’s fine but…. What she possibly means is I need a home cooked meal, a shower, a break, time to myself, some sleep, rest, a hug, support, nourishment, help with the cleaning, laundry, sterilising bottles, understanding, acknowledgement. The benefits for a new mum to just offload what their challenges are and how it’s making them feel is priceless.

Individual. Doulas are trained and assessed and are constantly improving their knowledge. There is a wide community of doulas all supporting each other which is much needed when working independently. This network is invaluable and shared knowledge is so powerful, but when choosing a doula, it’s an individual thing. There are no two doulas the same and you need to interview several to get the right “fit”.

Serve. The word doula comes from ancient Greek, meaning a woman who serves. Doulas are at your service to support you and your family, including siblings and grandparents for this life changing experience.

Tokophobia is the fear of being in labour and giving birth and it’s real. It’s common to have anxiety but to be terrified is a sign of Tokophobia, generally higher if your first birth was traumatic. A doula can support you when planning for your birth and help signpost professionals such as hypnobirthing and psychotherapy.

Empower you during your pregnancy, labour and birth. Doulas have lots of useful ways to help you use the pain you experience in a positive way to give birth to your baby. The physiological process of labour and birth is incredible, and a woman’s body is made for this most natural process. You want to feel in control and a true warrior once you have given birth and a doula will keep reminding you of the strength and power you have physically and mentally.

Nurture you through the later stages of pregnancy, labour, birth, recovery and the fourth trimester. It’s not just a baby that is born, but a mother too and like a baby, you need to find your space, rhythm and character as a mother. A doula has a wealth of information at her fingertips, but the empathy and nurturing a doula gives, helps parents establish their new family unit. 

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