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Maternity Services F.A.Q’s

What is a doula/birth partner?

The original word doula comes from Ancient Greek d???? (doule), and refers to a woman of service/care-giver. Labour/Birth partner doulas are labour support companions who provide practical and emotional support for before, during and after your baby is born. They do not perform clinical tasks such as heart rate checks or vaginal exams, nor do they provide advice. Rather, they use massage, positioning suggestions and breathing techniques alongside many other methods to help make your birth expereience as calm and smooth as possible. A Doula/Birth Partner joins a mother who has started labour either at her home, birth centre, or hospital and remains with her throughout the entire labour and birth process and will encourage immediate skin-to-skin contact between baby and parents. The Doula will help, assist and guide with feeding and bonding.

As well as the birth itself, Doulas will often organize a prenatal visit, phone support, and a postpartum meeting to ensure the mother is well informed and supported. The terms of a Doula/Birth Partner’s responsibilities are decided between the doula and the family. In addition to emotional, physical and informational support, doulas work as advocates of their client’s wishes and will assist in communicating with medical staff to obtain information for the client to make informed decisions regarding medical procedures.

Why is there a need for Doulas?

As childbirth has generally moved from home to hospital, some elements of care have been lost from the birth process. The days when an experienced family member or similar help from the immediate community would be on hand to provide the nurturing role for the new mother are long gone. As healthcare in general progressed during the 20th century the position of the community midwife evolved, but due to lack of resources these days, this service is steadily declining in many areas and the evidence is mounting of the many mothers who have suffered in one way or another as a result of this decline.

These days many women feel that they have to be in hospital to give birth to their baby where it is much more likely that a birth will be medically run by primary care givers such as midwives and Doctors and intervention methods, such as caesarean section or forceps, can be implemented if required. However as well as in a hospital setting, Doulas can also be invaluable where Mothers-to-be are considering a home birth or birth centre.

From extensive first hand experience and from numerous reports from Mums on personal birth experiences, the reality in the UK today is that many maternity units are over-stretched in terms of primary staff to mum ratios. Crucially, very often support and care (other than primary care) during and after a birth can be stretched thin to none at all in some cases. This is the point where a good Doula comes into her own.

Here are some recent research statistics on the benefits of having a Doula present at a birth:

  • Shortens first-time labour by an average of 2 hours
  • Decreases the chance of caesarean section by 50%
  • Decreases the need for pain medication
  • Helps fathers participate with confidence
  • Increases success in breastfeeding

-Findings from “Mothering the Mother” Klaus, Kennell & Klaus, 1993

What specific types of assistance can a Doula/Birth Partner provide for Mother and Baby?

  • Continuous physical, emotional, and informational support during pregnancy, labour, and childbirth.
  • Support from a person who understands and trusts the process of birth, and who helps facilitate the birth experience for the parents, baby, and primary care providers.
  • Emotional support.
  • Exercise and physical suggestions to make pregnancy and childbirth more comfortable.
  • Help with preparation of a birth plan.
  • Facilitation of communication between members of labouring woman’s birth team – though most doula certification programs discourage doulas from talking directly with caregivers for the mother/partners.
  • Massage and other non-pharmacological pain relief measures.
  • Positioning suggestions during labour and birth.
  • Support the partner so that he/she can provide support and encouragement to the labouring woman.
  • Help to avoid unnecessary interventions.
  • Help with breastfeeding preparation and beginning.
  • Some doulas offer a written record of the birth (birth story).
  • Is present during entire labour and afterwards as long as is needed by parent(s).

How can Doulas help Fathers and Family during a birth?

The doula is an ally and occasional mentor for the father or partner. Their respective roles are similar, but the differences are crucial. The father or partner typically has little actual experience in dealing with the often-subtle forces of the labour process, and may receive enormous benefit from the presence of a doula, who is familiar with the process of birth. Even more important, many fathers experience the birth as an emotional journey of their own and find it hard to be objective in such a situation, and a doula facilitates the family process. Studies have shown that fathers usually participate more actively during labour with the presence of a doula than without one. A responsible doula supports and encourages the father in his support style rather than replaces him.

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