Advice on what a doula is, why doulas can help make for an intervention free labour and what to look for when choosing a doula as your birthing partner.
Doulas are specially trained women who provide physical and emotional support throughout labour. While doulas are not medically trained, they will have attended many births and have much experience and often qualifications in the practice of childbirth, often being mothers themselves.
A doula will be present throughout labour (no matter how long) and will provide practical suggestions as to how you can facilitate the labour process within the boundaries of your birth plan. A doula may help to set up the birthing room to your liking and will most likely support your breathing and relaxation techniques, offer advice on birthing positions and may also practice massage, aromatherapy and other complementary techniques designed to aid the progression of labour (only to your liking of course).
Doulas often help support the father, helping them to stay calm and supportive during their partner's labour. They may also act as an intermediary between medical staff and the parents-to-be, explaining their options and clarifying anything that isn't understood.
Why have a doula?
Research has shown that the presence of a female companion during labour is one of the best ways to ensure that you get the birth experience you want. While its inevitable that medical intervention will be necessary in some circumstances, having a doula or other non-medically trained female with you throughout the birth has been shown to significantly reduce a labouring mother's need for pain relief, cesareans and other interventions such as forceps or ventouse.
While the real reason for these findings are unknown it is thought that the presence of a doula during labour instills a calming influence into the birthing room giving the mother the confidence and practical support she needs to cope. A doula also provides a source of continuous, impartial support for the mother at a time when the father may be anxious at his partners discomfort and midwifes may be unable to stay for long periods of time to offer much needed guidance.
Women who have had a doula present as they gave birth often report more positive birthing experiences than those who go solo. Again, this could be because their doula enabled them to feel more informed and in control of how they bought their infant into the world.
How to find a doula
As of yet having a doula to provide support through labour is not commonplace although this practice is growing in popularity as more people become aware of the benefits. Although there is no official regulatory body, Doula UK
is a voluntary organisation that has a code of practice to which all of its members adhere, they can also help to put you in touch with a doula in your area.
When choosing a doula to support you through your birthing experience it is important you choose someone that you feel completely comfortable with. You should also check that they are going to be available on call during the month surrounding your due date and that they have qualifications or references that you can check.
It is customary to meet up with your doula several times before you go into labour to establish your birth plan and so that she can gain a firm understanding of what you want from your birth. It will also give you the opportunity to get to know each other better so that you and your partner will feel more comfortable in her company. Some doulas will allow you to call or email them with your queries up until, and sometimes after, you give birth and some offer a post-birth follow up visit to discuss your birth experience and ensure you are settling in happily with your new baby.
The cost of hiring a doula varies, some work for free on a voluntary basis with women who are considered particularly high risk, however normal costs can be anything between Â£150 and Â£600 depending on the experience and expertise of the doula in question. Although this can seem a lot just for someone to accompany you through labour it could be well worth while if you end up having the positive birth experience you want.