Written by: Francesca Allsopp-Pick
What is a doula?
The first question that you might be asking is what is a doula? A doula is a person who offers emotional and physical support to both the female and her partner in the lead up to, during and after the birth. The word doula (pronounced doo-la) derives from Greek meaning “woman servant or caregiver”. They are trained and experienced in childbirth and very often mothers themselves. Whilst they will have good knowledge of the female physiology, they do not support the birth in medical terms but rather provide an emotional support to allow a woman to feel empowered into having the best possible birth experience.
Their role can range significantly from providing birth education and planning, reassurance and guidance, massage and other comfort measures during the birth itself, through to even videoing or photographing the birth. Some doulas will specialise in certain areas for example pre birth or post natal care but most will be trained and experienced to provide support from pregnancy to post birth.
Why hire a doula?
For many women, hiring a doula can help reduce anxiety for both herself and the partner, knowing that there is an emotional support available that is focused solely on them. With labour wards becoming increasingly busy and midwives caring for several women at a time, some expectant Mums seek reassurance in knowing that their doula will be with them throughout the birth when a midwife is unavailable.
Doulas are often seen as a ‘mother’ to the mother, providing advice and support during the pregnancy stage, answering questions, alleviating fears and focusing solely on the wishes of the parents. Women may have complex needs during childbirth which require not only modern obstetrical care but also continuous and consistent, reassurance, comfort and encouragement.
When Kate Chamberlayne, 31, from North London discovered she was pregnant, it filled her with great excitement but also huge worry. Fearing she would be alone during her birth if her husband, who is a lawyer, was delayed in court, Kate enlisted upon the help of local mother of three and trained doula, Ema Mortimar. She wanted someone with a “no messing” attitude who would be caring solely for herself and the baby. Her husband needed a little more convincing but fearing her may indeed miss the birth altogether, was keen to have a reliable source of emotional support for his wife.
Practical and emotional support
Kate explains that Ema provided both practical support in terms of “mopping my brow” as well as the encouragement needed to focus her to “keep going” without pain relief. She continues “Ema kept me calm, she insulated me from a lot of the anxiety, when everyone else was shouting, and I really think that was important. I know midwives aren’t able to offer the continuity that a doula could offer, but I think there is quite a lot they could learn from people like her.”
Not all find doula’s helpful
The topic of doulas has however, over the years, been subject to controversy, with some medical professionals accusing the doula of interfering in clinical decisions and damaging the care of both mother and baby. Several reports to the Royal College of Midwives (RMC) have accused the doula of having become “obstructive and antagonistic” in the delivery suite or having challenged the advice of the medically trained midwife. Some even report the doula refusing direct communication with “their” patient sparking fears for both the safety of mother and baby. Hospital doctors have also shared their concerns, stating that incidents usually occur when obstetricians and midwives want to escalate the monitoring of a baby and the doula interferes. They fear that conflicting advice between midwife and doula can lead to increased anxiety and pressure for a woman at an already vulnerable time.
Benefits of doula’s
However, Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary for the RMC is in no doubt that some doulas are indeed providing a service that some midwives are unable to as a result of work pressures and time constraints. A calm mother with low blood pressure is much more likely to deliver her baby naturally without interventions such as forceps or caesarean section and if a doula can help assist with this then surely it can only be a good thing.
With this in mind, many will champion the role of the doula with many seeing their role as an invaluable additional service in helping mothers to experience happy, healthy and fulfilling births.
Whether or not you choose to employ the services of a doula are entirely up to you. Nevertheless, it does prompt us to consider alternative methods to help in healthy delivery and ultimately to provide mothers all over the world with best possible birthing experience for both themselves and baby.