What does a birth doula do?

A birth doula is there to walk alongside you as you navigate pregnancy, labour and the birth of your baby, providing emotional, practical and informational support. They will continue to look after you in the early hours of life with your newborn and will leave when you are ready and comfortable.

But what does that support actually look like? Well, it looks different for every family, pregnancy and birth, which is why is can be challenging to describe exactly what birth doula support involves.

For some, the care and support from their birth doula starts at a very early stage. I have experience of working with some families from as early as 8 weeks of pregnancy, but I know doulas who will work with couples pre-conception, as they navigate fertility challenges and the practical and emotional challenges that accompany them. For others, support can start later on in pregnancy, as they start to explore what they would like their birth team to look like or realise that they would like some impartial guidance, a non-judgemental listening ear and advocacy support as they navigate the antenatal maternity system.

Each doula will have their specific interests and areas of expertise to offer their clients during their time together. Some have particular strengths in terms of pregnancy massage and complimentary therapies, antenatal education or birth rights. Depending on your interests, previous experiences or wishes for this pregnancy you may be drawn to one birth doula or another. For instance, I am an enthusiastic and passionate teacher of birth preparation, hypnobirthing techniques and breastfeeding preparation so I offer these services as part of my birth doula packages, so that I can ensure that my clients are as well informed as possible and ready for the reality of labour, birth and the early stages of infant feeding. These sessions, which take place in addition to the doula birth and postnatal planning sessions, give me and my clients the perfect opportunity to get to know eachother really well so that we can work naturally and comfortably together, with a deep level of trust in me and my provision for their needs. 

At 38 weeks of pregnancy, ocassionally sooner- depending on individual circumstances, I go 'on-call' and stay that way until the birth of your baby. This means that I am available for contact 24 hours a day and I remain within a 1 hour drive from your home, so I am available for a chat if you have any concerns, need some signposting to supportive information or it is time to attend your labour. In labour I will come to be with you when you feel you would like my presence, which may be sooner or later depending on how you feel you are coping with the sensations of labour. I will support you at home, at the birthing centre, on delivery suite or in theatre, wherever you are having your baby. 

In labour my support can be quite practical: e.g. setting up the birth pool, preparing a birthing nest, making drinks and snacks, helping you to move from one position to another. It can also be emotional: with words of encouragement, providing comfort measures and guiding you through your breathing techniques. It could be informational and advocacy support: ensuring that you are clear about the options for your care, the pros and cons of what is being offered, making sure you have the time and space to make the decisions that are right for you and advocating for the choices that you make. But sometimes, on occasion, it can look like very little- sometimes a doula's greatest super power is their presence in the room, just knowing they are there with you can give you all the support you need to find the strength within yourself to navigate your journey to the birth of your child- peacefully, calmly and with complete trust in your body and its abilities. 

After the arrival of your baby, a birth doula's role is to protect your 'golden hour' as much as possible, supporting skin-to-skin, early feeding (if you are breastfeeding), the continued release of oxytocin for the delivery of the placenta and bonding with your baby etc. They will stay as long or as little time as you feel comfortable with and leave only when you feel ready. 

After birth a birth doula will usually visit at least once as part of their package, to debrief your experience, answer any questions you have from the early days and to make sure that you and your baby are doing well. Some families will choose to have ongoing postnatal support sessions- for a few weeks, months or even a full year after birth. These sessions are focused on looking after your wellbeing; as a new mother, as new parents, as a new family. For those that don't choose this ongoing - in person - care, your birth doula will stay available to you 'virtually' for up to 6 weeks postpartum, so if any questions arise they will be there to answer them and continue your support when needed. 

During my labour Natalie was so reassuring, respected my wishes and assured me of her full support with my choices and decisions. Natalie was in regular contact with me during early labour, giving helpful suggestions to make my labour easier. When I went to hospital Natalie came to be with me and she didn't leave my side, giving me the strength to continue with my plans and to manage my contractions without pain relief, as I wished.

Natalie made sure I understood what was being offered and supported me in the decisions that I made for my care. For me, Natalie was a God send and I couldn't have asked for a better birthing partner.




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