What is a doula?

A doula is a person you employ to support you during pregnancy, childbirth or the postnatal period. Most families have a doula throughout all these stages as you can develop a rapport and a trusting relationship when you meet up regularly. A doula does not have medical training and is not qualified to give any medical care during pregnancy, birth or postnatally, but most doulas have been through training programmes and may be registered with organisations such as Doula UK. Their experiences and personalities may vary considerably, so it is good to meet a few before deciding on which doula best fits your family’s needs.

What can a doula offer that a midwife cannot?

Midwifery is a different profession and offers clinical care and monitoring of you and your baby’s wellbeing. More often than not, if you access maternity care through the NHS you may see several midwives throughout your pregnancy, and it is unlikely that you will have met the midwife who cares for you in labour before. A doula will be able to offer you far better continuity of care and will know you as a person, your likes and dislikes and your birth preferences. A doula is a support person who can offer you and your family emotional support throughout your pregnancy as well as knowing practical ways to navigate an often-confusing maternity system, when you may not have chance to discuss these at your midwife appointments.

The advantages of having a doula

  • You can discuss your antenatal care and ask your doula to attend midwife or hospital appointments if you need support.
  • You can make a birth plan for different scenarios with your doula and ask her to advocate for you if you are unable to (for example during labour, when your focus needs to be elsewhere).
  • Your doula may have experience in certain types of births which may help you. For example, she may have experience in gentle caesarean sections and/or waterbirths or another area where you would like to gain further knowledge.
  • If you have general worries, anxieties or previous birth trauma issues, a doula can be extremely helpful to enable you to work through these concerns and help you to make the right choices for you and your baby, as well as helping you to become more confident and/or signpost you to helpful resources.
  • If you have hired a doula to support you during your birth they will be on call from 37 weeks of your pregnancy for when you go into labour. You will be able to call your doula when you think labour has begun and decide when you need further support.

What a doula doesn’t offer

As well as knowing what role a doula can play during your childbirth journey, it is also helpful to know what you shouldn’t expect from her.

  • A doula does not perform any clinical care, such as taking your blood pressure, listening to your baby’s heart rate or doing vaginal examinations.
  • She is not there to take over your partner’s role as birth companion (unless you specify that you want this), she is there to support both of you through pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.
  • Doulas are not there to give consent or make decisions for you, but to give you information and help you to find the right sources of evidence, to enable you to make your own informed choices about your pregnancy and birth.

A doula can be especially helpful if you have extra needs or complexities during your pregnancy, as she will be able to spend time working through the various options available for you. During labour, if you have a longer than average labour, she can be there to make sure both you and your partner are keeping up your energy levels and resting enough and to provide helpful tips and advice.

Prices to hire a doula can vary as it can depend upon experience and how much of their time is involved. Most doulas can be flexible to accommodate your needs and will state which services they offer on their websites.

Being a doula requires a unique skill set and research suggests that hiring a doula is also linked to an increase in women having a normal birth and a decrease in having a caesarean section.

Summary

A doula can support you throughout pregnancy, birth and into the postnatal period, both physically and emotionally. They are not there to replace your partner or your midwife, but rather as an extra member of your support team at this special time.

More information on how to find a doula near you is available here

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