A doula is an experienced woman who supports you and your family through pregnancy, birth and those precious early weeks of parenting. Doulas are trained to offer sound, non-judgmental support and although are not usually medically trained, they will have a good knowledge of how normal physiological birth unfolds and how best to support you. They usually (but not always) have children themselves and bring their own experience as well as their training to their work with you.
A birth doula offers practical and emotional support to you and your family before, during and shortly after your baby is born. Each doula offers a different birth package depending on their area of expertise, but as a general guide you should meet a few times during pregnancy to get to know each other and to prepare for the birth. She will often be able to accompany you to appointments if you feel you need her there, and she can be helpful in sourcing good quality, unbiased information for you when choices are to be made throughout this time.
“We were originally quite embarrassed about having a doula – we thought it was a bit indulgent and ‘hippyish’. However, we have had the most positive birth experience of anyone we know and are convinced there is a link. Now we are proud of our decision and want to tell other people how brilliant having a doula is.” Eryn and James
Most doulas have an on-call period from around 37/38 weeks until your baby is born. When you go into labour she will be there with you, she will support you and will be a pillar of strength when and however you most need her. She will remind you of the preparation that you made together, and encourage you to achieve the birth that you want. She is not there to replace the partner’s role at birth; she will enhance this role and will be a friendly face in the birthing room for him as well. After the birth, your doula will help to protect the bonding space of the ‘magic’ hour, when the first breastfeed occurs, and early bonding is vital for the well being of all. In the days that follow, she will return to visit you and your partner to debrief your birth experience.
“A priceless rock of strength and understanding that is tirelessly loving and supportive. Her knowledge also saved me from an almost certain episiotomy”
Birth doulas are usually happy to support any sort of birth, whatever your choices, although some may specialise in certain areas, such as VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean), home birth, water birth or multiple births. It is vitally important that you interview a doula before you begin working together, as each will bring her own personality and mix of skills to the role and your relationship with her is of the utmost importance to your personal experience. Please refer to individual profiles to see specialist additional skills and services offered by each doula. Prices vary according to the level of experience and support offered.
Just as a birth doula is there to support new parents through pregnancy and birth, a postnatal doula will offer you support during the first few weeks or months after your baby is born.
Many new mums and dads feel overwhelmed after the birth and often do not have the extended families of days-gone-by to come and assist them, which can cause them undue stress and tiredness. A postnatal doula will take on this caring role, she will literally ‘mother the mother’, supplying calm, non-judgemental support when it is most needed. She will also facilitate the partner’s role in the early weeks and help him nurture the family as a whole.
“We just want to say a huge thank you for all your help over the past six weeks. You are such a wonderful person with a warm and caring heart, and it has been a joy to have you in our home over this exciting time. We will miss you dearly!
A postnatal doula will be sensitive to your needs and wishes and will give you the opportunity to rest and recuperate properly so you can enjoy bonding with your precious new baby. She will come equipped with a sense-of-humour, a listening ear and will offer the sort of emotional and practical assistance that will ‘lighten the load’ and ease the transition into motherhood. She will help you talk about your birth experience and will provide you with a range of services tailored to your own needs: she can care for your baby and any siblings whilst you rest, she can provide support for breast or bottle feeding, she can ensure you are well fed and have enough to drink, and can provide suggestions and guidance for any baby-related queries you might have. She can also offer a multitude of additional services, such as pet care, household shopping, light housework, answering the phone and ensuring visitors are kept to a minimum when you are tired! Many doulas have experience working with twins or triplets and hold a range of other qualifications, such as advanced breastfeeding, first aid and homeopathy to name but a few.
You can expect your postnatal doula to work flexible hours during the week, usually between Mondays and Fridays, although some will also work over the weekends and during the evening (or overnight) as well. She might come to your house for a few hours every day or a few days a week, depending on what is needed. Doulas are self-employed and will charge an hourly rate which varies according to their own experience and they may charge mileage on top of this. Please refer to each individual doula profile for more information.