What is a doula

What is a Doula?

“Doula” (pronounced “doo-la”) is a Greek word meaning “woman servant or caregiver”. It now refers to an experienced woman who offers emotional and practical support to a woman (or couple) before, during and after childbirth. A doula believes in “mothering the mother” – enabling a woman to have the most satisfying and empowered time that she can during pregnancy, birth and the early days as a new mum. This type of support also helps the whole family to relax and enjoy the experience.

Birth doulas are trained and experienced in childbirth, although they may or may not have given birth themselves. They have a good knowledge and awareness of female physiology BUT the doula is not supporting the mother in a clinical role – that is the job of the midwife/medical staff.

Postnatal doulas work flexible hours to suit the family, offering practical and emotional support to the new mother and father in the home following the birth of baby. In the West today, too often mothers are rushed back into normal day-to-day activities; in many cultures women are confined to bed and rest for a period of up to 40 days. This may be impossible in our society but with the help of a postnatal doula, a mother can enjoy some of the benefits of a prolonged “lying in” period. This will help her bond with her baby and spend extra time with any older siblings. Our work is about empowering a family to take care of itself and we facilitate this by helping around the house and offering encouragement and suggestions.

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What does a Doula do?

The services offered by a doula vary greatly according to the needs of the mother-to-be/parents-to-be. A doula’s role has to be flexible to fit in with the given situation e.g. the type of support will differ for a first time mum to that of a woman who has children already. Every birth is unique and therefore every woman’s experience is also unique. Before Childbirth the doula will usually meet with the mother (or couple) at least once face to face, and then perhaps be available by phone or for additional meetings if necessary. During Labour the doula is able to offer help and suggestions on comfort measures such as breathing, relaxation, movement and positioning. The doula can also encourage the father to participate in the birth to a level at which he feels comfortable. The doula’s most important role is to provide nurturing, continuous support and reassurance.

After childbirth the doula may follow up with a couple of postnatal visits to help the new mum settle at home with her new baby, or alternatively, the mother may decide to employ a postnatal doula for a period of 6 – 8 weeks.

Sometimes this will mean that the mother employs a different doula to the one that attended the birth as not all birth doulas can offer extended postnatal support, whereas there are doulas who ONLY offer this type of postnatal support.

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Why is there a need for Doulas?

As childbirth has moved from home to hospital, a vital element of care has been lost from the whole process. Gone are the days where a woman would have continuous support from one carer throughout her labour. It used to be the case that the womenfolk within the immediate and extended family (mothers/sisters/grandmother etc…) would be on hand to provide the nurturing role for the new mother, to guide by experience and help with the practicalities that need to be performed before, during and after a woman gives birth to a baby.

Later the concept of the community midwife developed, but due to lack of resources, this service is steadily declining in many areas.

Nowadays many women feel that they have to be in hospital to give birth to their baby where it is much more likely that a birth will be medically managed and intervention methods, such as caesarean section or forceps, will be used.

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What are some of the benefits of having a Doula at your birth?

The benefits of having a Doula are shown here in the results of the 2008 UK Doula Survey –

  • 21% gave birth at home (compared to 2% nationally)
  • 27% laboured in a birth pool
  • 35% of labours were under 6 hours
  • 72% of labours were under 12 hours
  • Nearly 50% fewer caesareans (14% compared to 26.6% NHS – Gtr London demographic)
  • 50% fewer epidurals (16% compared to 33% nationally)
  • 65% fewer inductions (7% compared to 20% nationally)
  • 96% breastfed at birth (compared to 76% nationally)
  • 6% where the doula was the sole birth partner
    Study of 436 births (47% first time mothers)
  • 84% breastfed for 6 weeks
  • 79% breastfed for 12 weeks /(higher than NHS average at birth)/
    Study of 224 families supported postnatally

RESEARCH has shown that having a doula present at a birth ;

  • Shortens first-time labour by an average of 2 hours
  • Decreases the chance of caesarean section by 50%
  • Decreases the need for pain medication
  • Helps fathers participate with confidence
  • Increases success in breastfeeding

Findings from “Mothering the Mother,” Klaus, Kennell & Klaus, 1993

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