Giving birth is one of the most intensely powerful physical and emotional experiences a woman can go through. Labour and birth themselves are intense, as well as the transformation of a woman into her new-found role as a mother.
Our North American culture does not always seem to honour this process or transition. Historically, women were able to rely on a community of other women to support them throughout this experience. Today, women generally are expected to carry themselves through pregnancy, birth and postpartum with minimal support or nurturing from other women.
Enter the Birth Doula. The word doula is a Greek word meaning “female slave” or “woman’s servant”. In the birth world, a doula is a woman who provides familiar, knowledgeable emotional and physical support to a woman prenatally, during labour, and postpartum.
The support a doula provides allows women to remember their births as more positive, blissful experiences, feeling honoured, heard, comforted and supported throughout.
Here are 5 ways a doula can make your own birth more blissful:
1. A doula is focused on your emotional and physical needs 100%. Your doctor or midwife is a medical professional, trained to ensure you and your baby stay healthy. We’re lucky to have them as safeguards for birth, there to intervene if things don’t go as smoothly as they usually do. Because their role as medical professionals is their number one priority, they are not able to provide continual support as you cope with the intensity of contractions during labour. Your doula is not a medical practitioner, and does not have this responsibility pulling at her attention. This allows her to put all of her energy into making sure you are as comfortable, relaxed and taken care of as possible.
2. A doula can do the left-brain work. During prenatal classes and in birth books, you learn about different labour positions, comfort measures, specific things to try for certain situations that may come up during birth. You may also have heard that it is important to allow yourself to go inward, switching to the more meditative, right-brained mentality and focus on letting your body do its work. It is difficult to stay in that meditative, focused state if you are constantly reaching into your “left” brain to think of all the things you could be trying. You doula can do that thinking for you, making gentle suggestions for trying a new position, reminding you to have a sip of water between each contraction, getting you to the washroom once an hour to make sure your bladder is empty and there’s lots of room for baby to move around. She will also have a few tricks up her sleeve for dealing with especially intense labour or discomfort. This allows you to stay focused inward, steadily focused on coping with each contraction.
3. Doulas provide continual and familiar support. If your are birthing in a hospital setting, there will be nurses around to check in and monitor you between visits from your doctor or midwife. An important thing to point out is that hospital staff work in shifts! Labour can be a long journey, and in your time at the hospital, you sometimes go through one or two OB's and multiple nurses. Your doula will likely be your only support person that you and your partner became familiar with during pregnancy, and will stay by your side through the entirety of labour. Your doula knows you, knows your birth vision and knows what you’ve experienced so far in your birth. This steady and familiar presence offers a feeling of safety that is so important to minimizing your stress level during labour.
4. A doula takes stress off your partner. We are lucky here in North America to live in a time where fathers are invited into hospital birthing rooms. It wasn’t long ago that women birthed without any familiar support in hospitals, left only with doctors and medical staff. However, men have traditionally never been a part of birth, and in our culture, people barely talk to women about birth, never mind men! Because of this, it is a lot to ask of the father to be your sole support person during birth. Doulas do not replace the father’s role in your birth experience. They simply remove the pressure on dads to remember their crash course in labour and birth over the last few months. Between holding mom, taking steps to minimize her discomfort, making sure the whole birth team is nourished and hydrated, asking the right questions of medical staff, and suggesting techniques for keeping things moving along smoothly, there is no shortage of support to give mom. Having a doula to aide in some of these tasks makes birthing a more blissful experience for both mom and dad.
5. A doula will make sure you continue to feel supported after birth. You’ve had your baby. Now what? As you settle into your new role as a mother, your doula will be available for breastfeeding support, emotional support and to help you find any postpartum resources to make the entry into this new part of your life as smooth and blissful as possible.
Having a birth doula to support you during birth is one of the easiest ways to create a sense of calm trust in the process. The biggest enemy of birth is stress, which interferes with progress and can slow or stop contractions altogether. Having a doula by your side providing continual emotional and physical support during your birth makes it so much easier to create a blissful birth for you, your partner and for baby.
Jessica Austin is a Birth Doula and Childbirth Educator based in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Her doula practice - Birth Takes a Village - has a mission "to promote a gentle and informed birth culture". You can also find Jessica on Facebook and Twitter.
I for one wish I had hired a doula for my birth. Don't get me wrong, I had "textbook" pregnancies and wonderful births both times. As well, my doctor and the rest of the hospital staff, as well as my husband, were all amazing during my labour and birth and I wouldn't change a thing. However, a doula is there to support you in a different way and I would definitely opt to have that support if I were to have another baby. Jessica's five points really resonated with me. It just makes sense. How about you? Did you have a doula? If so, what was the best thing about having one? If not, will you have one "next time"? Please share your experiences below.