The birth of your baby is one of the most intimate and precious times of your life. So why would you add a virtual stranger to the mix as an additional birth partner or ‘doula’?
What if you think about it this way? Would travelling to a far away land seem less daunting if you had the support of a guide who’d been there before? Would stepping into the unknown feel more comfortable if you had someone’s hand to hold? Would running a race be easier going if you had someone to cheer you on? Would listening to a foreign language be more informative if it was interpreted by a translator?
WHAT DOES A DOULA DO?
By hiring a doula to support your labour and birth you are hiring a guide, a comforter, a coach & cheerleader and often a translator. Sometimes there’s a lot more ’doing’ involved – massage, meditation and suggestions for positions to labour in to name a few.
However, just by being with you and offering a reassuring presence, from the onset of labour until you are settled with your new arrival, can go a long way to allaying many of the concerns that women have: ‘I don’t know who the midwife on duty will be’, ‘how will my partner drive me to the birth centre/hospital while I’m having contractions in the back seat’, ‘I don’t have anyone to drive me to the hospital’, ‘what if I panic’, ‘what if my partner panics’, ‘I don’t want to be afraid’…?
For many women, the decision to hire a doula comes from the desire to create a more nurturing and natural environment for their birth. The statistics back this up, for example a study undertaken in 1993 (Mothering the Mother, Klaus et al) showed that having a doula present at 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
CHOOSING A DOULA
Of course each doula will work differently, each bringing a different set of experiences, training and philosophy with them but what unites every doula registered with Doula UK – the non-profit association of doulas in the UK – is the dedication to enable 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.
Of course it’s sensible to look at a doula’s background and qualifications to see that she has theexperience that you feel you need to offer the support you are looking for. More importantly, however, it is essential that you check that her approach and personality is in line with yours.
Before we go back to the original question, let’s put all of this into a wider context. Maternity services across the country are becoming more and more overstretched; it is not unusual for women to see a different midwife for each antenatal check and in most cases midwives are attending to more than one labouring woman at any one time. Add to this the distinct possibility of shift changes part way through your labour bringing a new face and personality into the mix and you have a pregnancy and birth full of strangers.
So, why would you add a virtual stranger to the mix as your doula? If you’re still not sure, you might rephrase the question to this: If you had the opportunity to handpick someone to be with you throughout your labour, someone who would be there as support for you and your partner from the first contraction through to after the baby is born, would you?