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Doulas: what are they and what do they do?

2015 May 23

Doula is a Greek word which originally meant servant. It’s come to mean a woman who supports women through pregnancy, birth and/or the postnatal period. Unlike a maternity nurse who focuses mostly on getting a baby into a good routine in the early months a doula is there throughout the journey to parenthood.

Doulas are often flexible in what they will do. Some specialise in pregnancy and birth, others only do postnatal support to help you adjust to parenthood, get breastfeeding off to a good start and recover from labour. Many will be able to put together a bespoke package to support new families.

Many doulas have taken some form of formal training courses but there is no requirement to do this. Doula UK approves face to face training courses in the UK but there are international programmes and associations such as Birth Arts International, Childbirth International and DONA. A good doulas will be able to tell you about her training and what she has learnt. Many doulas are also mothers themselves, and should have a positive attitude towards birth and the postnatal period.

A doula will support you during pregnancy, helping you to process the emotional impact of parenthood and preparing for birth. She is not a midwife so this does not replace your routine medical appointments and scans. She may work with you to create a birth plan, and discuss ways to manage pain during labour without using medication, and when attending the birth advocate for you to midwives or suggest strategies for pain management like changing position or massage.

Most birth doulas will offer a debrief after the birth to help you process the events, even if all went well. Sharing your birth experience can be a very healing process and a doula who was with you during the birth is able to fill in any gaps you might have in your memory.

Postnatally a doula will take on the role you might like your own mother to fulfil: giving advice on breastfeeding, cooking meals, entertaining older children for short periods of time, holding the baby while you shower, whipping a duster round or just listening to you.

In an isolated world where we live far from our traditional support networks a doula can be a wonderful way to get help and support at a life changing time.

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