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Navigating the World of Pregnancy, Birth and Parenthood with a Doula by Your Side

What-is-a-doula
Picture of Bere Horthy

Bere Horthy

Doula & Registered Nurse

If you’re going to be welcoming a new baby into your family soon, you may have heard the term ‘doula’ floating around. You might be wondering what it is and whether or not you should hire one.

A birth and postpartum doula is a non-medical trained birth companion or support person who provides support to families during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.

Doulas can help you navigate your pregnancy, provide information about your birthing options, and offer emotional and physical support to you and your birthing partner during labour and delivery.

While some families choose to go without a doula, others find that having this type of support can be invaluable.

If you’re considering hiring a doula, and you’re wondering “What is a doula?” read on to learn more about what they do and how they can help you during this amazing time in your life.

What is a doula? Types of doulas.
Source: Expecting Joy doula services

Types of doulas

Many people are still asking the question – What is a doula? There are several types of doulas. While most people know of birth and postpartum doulas, there are also doulas to help you with other major life transitions.

These include end-of-life doulas, bereavement doulas – for miscarriage, abortion or other forms of loss, and gender transition doulas, just to name a few.

A doula offers personalised, non-medical support to mothers before, during and after the birthing process.

Depending on your specific needs, three kinds of doulas are available: antepartum (preparing for labour), labour/birth and postpartum (following delivery).

An antepartum doula also known as a pregnancy doula is an incredible asset to mothers and their partners as they journey through pregnancy and prepare for birth.

They are especially beneficial when complications arise during pregnancy, providing education and guidance to the mother and partner.

Labour and birth doulas provide physical and emotional support throughout the duration of labour. They help create a safe and calming environment where the mother can focus solely on embracing her journey.

A birth and labour doula also acts as a passionate advocate for the woman and her wishes when in the hospital setting.

Postpartum doulas offer support for both the parents and the baby after birth. They assist with breastfeeding, cleaning and cooking and help parents adjust to their new life.

A doula’s assistance can be truly invaluable during this often overwhelming time for any woman.

What can a doula do for you?
Source: Doula Minnesota

Services doulas offer

The services offered depend on the type of doula and their experience.

Some of the services that doulas offer:

  • Hypnobirthing  

Hypnobirthing is a form of natural pain relief that uses a combination of visualisation, relaxation and breathing techniques.

These courses are normally taught during pregnancy when the mother and birth partner will come together to learn techniques that they can use during birth.

Some doulas also teach Yoga lessons, which is another great way to learn to move and groove during labour.

Hypnobirthing has been proven to work by reducing the stress hormones in the body, relaxing the mother, resulting in increased oxytocin release and, ultimately, shorter labour.

  • Massage and acupressure

Massage and acupressure are also great forms of pain relief during labour. They not only take your mind off the contractions but also help to stimulate the release of endorphins – the feel-good hormone and help you stay relaxed.

  • Homebirth support

Even though birthing at home had been the norm for centuries, in the 1950s there was a mass movement toward women having their babies in the hospital.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with opting in for a hospital birth, there are many reasons why birthing at home in your safe, familiar environment is much more beneficial.

With the recent ‘reclaiming your birth as a right of passage’ movement, there are many women and families choosing to have their babies at home. Doulas are a wonderful support when it comes to home birth.

Not only making the women and her birthing partner feel even safer, they guide the birthing couple through their birthing journey. 

  • Short courses

If you cannot afford a doula, or you prefer to have your mother or close friend, or even just have you and your birth partner, some doulas offer short courses.

These courses can teach your support people/person how to support you while you are in labour and after birth.

  • Child/family support

Depending on the women’s needs, doulas also offer support for the rest of the family.

Every birth is different, and sometimes if the family want to involve the other children in the birth, and if they have other support people, a doula can help the children and make sure they are cared for.

If they need a break or if they get hungry, your doula can take care of them without interrupting the birth space.

  • Lactation and breastfeeding support

For first-time mothers, the thought of breastfeeding can be very exciting, but sometimes, without the correct support, it can be difficult to do. A postpartum doula will support both you and your baby in breastfeeding.

If you choose not to breastfeed, your doula can also support you by helping you find a formula or breast pump that will work for you and your baby.

They can also show you how to pump and store the milk or, if using the formula, how to prepare it. They can also help you ding the right bottles to use – there are so many out there to choose from.

  • Birth photography

One less thing to worry about. A doula who is trained in photography can be an asset in the birth room for those who want to have photographs or a video to remember the journey.

  • Placenta encapsulation

Encapsulation of the placenta, a practice developed in Chinese medicine, has become increasingly popular worldwide.

Some people believe that it can help ward off postpartum depression; reduce bleeding after childbirth; enhance energy levels and milk production; and provide vital micronutrients such as iron- although there is little scientific evidence to back up these claims.

  • TENS machine and birth pool rental 

A TENS machine or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation machine is a device that sends mild electrical impulses to sticky pads that are placed on your back.

This is thought to work by blocking the pain signals to your brain during contractions.

It is controlled by the women through a small handheld device.

Not all women like the feeling of the tense machine but those who do swear by it.

It can be used throughout labour and has no negative effects on the baby.

Another popular item for the birth room is a birth pool.

A blow-up pool that is often big enough for the women to comfortably move around in.

Sometimes the pool is big enough for the birth partner too.

The warmth and the buoyancy provided by the water are ideal for relaxing and softening the cervix and perineum, making it easier for the baby’s head and shoulders to pass through.

Water immersion is proven to improve the labour experience by decreasing pain and length of labour and birth.

Sometimes these birthing tools can be hard to get your hands on, and when you do, they can be quite expensive.

Some doulas offer them for you to rent and use, which not only will guarantee that you’ll have them at your birth, but also they might be less expensive as part of your doula’s package.

In addition to providing constant support, doulas also have a huge range of knowledge when it comes to childbirth, ranging from different medical interventions and what they entail to how to get a baby with a tongue tie to latch.

A doula will often stay as long as necessary in order to ensure that the birthing parents are comfortable and supported after the delivery as well.

Lastly, many doulas also offer follow-up visits for breastfeeding support, family integration guidance, and other postpartum needs.

Doulas truly offer an unparalleled level of both emotional and physical support during this special time in life.

If you are looking for a service that doulas don’t offer, they are more than likely to have a wealth of knowledge on how to access the services and the best places to go.

Having children at your birth
Source: Jessica Henderson Photography

Why they work

“What is it that makes doulas so good?” you ask.

Evidence suggests that having a doula present during labour and childbirth is associated with fewer artificial inductions and cesarian sections, lower use of medications for pain relief, and fewer birth complications.

Studies also show an increase in spontaneous vaginal births, a reduction in labour time and an improved birth experience for mothers and babies. 

A doula can help create an environment that promotes warmth, safety and trust, which makes it easier for the psychological bonding to occur between mother and baby, as well as providing an overall improved birth experience.

Doula support services
Source: Full Spectrum Doula Care

How to find a doula that is right for you

Finding the right doula can seem overwhelming! A good place to start is by doing research and making sure what they offer aligns with what you are looking for.

When searching for the right doula, consider what experience the doula has, what services they provide, and if its values align with yours.

After finding someone who seems to be a good fit, it’s always best to meet up with them in person for coffee or lunch to make sure that you connect on a personal level before continuing.

Ultimately, it is important to find a doula who is willing to help support you through your journey of childbirth and beyond.

How much do doulas cost?

Hiring a doula can be important to ensure you have a smooth pregnancy and birth experience and feel supported through the first few weeks of being a parent.

But the question is – how much will it cost? The answer depends on where you live and what services you are looking for.

Doulas typically have different pricing depending on their experience and the services they offer. On average, prices for a doula’s services can range from USD$500 to USD$2,000 depending on your location and needs.

Some doulas charge by the hour, so be sure to explore all of your options before making a decision.

What is the difference between a doula and a midwife?

A doula and a midwife are both trained professionals who work in the field of women’s health and pregnancy, but they have different roles and responsibilities.

A doula is a non-medical professional who provides emotional, physical, and informational support to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.

Their focus is on supporting the mother and helping her have a positive birth experience.

They can offer a variety of services, including education about the birthing process, advice on pain management techniques, and emotional support during labour.

On the other hand, a midwife is a medical professional who’s trained to provide medical care and support to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.

Midwives can perform physical exams, provide prenatal care, and support with labour and delivery. They can also offer postpartum care and newborn care.

Midwives are licenced to provide medical care, but their approach to childbirth is typically more natural and holistic than that of a medical doctor.

The main difference between a doula and a midwife is that a doula isn’t a medical professional and doesn’t provide medical care.

Feel confident in your birth

Remember – you are never alone in this journey, and having a doula at your side can help provide invaluable support along the way.

Doulas are becoming increasingly popular among women who want to have positive birth experiences. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you think hiring a doula might be right for you. I hope this article has answered your question, “What is a doula?”

With the right knowledge, preparation and support, you can feel confident in your birth journey.

berenice-horthy-author
Bere Horthy

As a doula and nurse, Bere's mission is to empower and educate women, families, and fellow doulas to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum journey.

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