The word ‘doula’ (pronounced ‘doo-la’) is a Greek word meaning ‘woman servant or caregiver’. More recently, it refers to someone who offers emotional and physical support to a woman and her partner before, during and after childbirth. A doula (also known as a birth attendant) believes in ‘mothering the mother’, enabling a woman to have the most satisfying experience that she can, from pregnancy and into motherhood. This type of support allows the whole family to relax and enjoy the experience too. Doulas are trained and experienced in childbirth and are usually mothers themselves. They have a good knowledge and awareness of female physiology, but a doula does not support the mother in a medical role – that is the job of the midwife or doctor. She works on keeping birth normal and empowering, and should the birth become complicated and require medical assistance, a doula will still remain by your side and help in any way she can. She will not make the decisions for those she supports, but she assists them through the decision making process and provides balanced information so the couple can make their own choices. Many women consider doulas to be a must for those giving birth in a hospital, due to the over-medicalisation of birth – unnecessary inductions have skyrocketed and are partly to blame for the 1 in 3 Australian babies now born by caesarean section. In Australia, some hospitals have caesarean section rates as high as 50% and higher. This is a terribly high statistic, well above World Health Organisation recommendations, which makes us amongst the highest in the world. Given the long term emotional and physical effects this can have on the mother, her partner and baby, a doula to me is like an ‘insurance policy’ – which can help protect you from a disempowering, disappointing experience or unnecessary procedures and intervention. With a doula, you know that someone is always on YOUR team, holding the space for you and your family. She works for you and has your best interests at heart, unlike hospital staff who have to abide by policies, which are not always best for a birthing woman, but best to avoid legal issues and to keep things running as a business. A doula works in birth centres, private and public hospitals and at homebirth in conjunction with midwives – but never as the sole carer at birth.
A doula may provide some or all of the following, dependent on her training and skills (she may be more than just a doula: • Birth education and preparation • Birth planning (including creating a written birth plan/birth preferences document) • De-briefing previous births • Massage and other comfort measures • Optimal fetal positioning • Suggest positions and changes to help ease pain and facilitate a smoother, more effective labour • Provide reassurance and encouragement • Talking through emotional blockages which may come up in labour • Keep your ‘environment’ going – aromatherapy, music, candles etc • Assisting you with negotiation of your preferences for birth if what you want and the hospital wants differs • Photography and/or video if you wish to have moments of your partner supporting you, the birth itself and those precious first moments as a family, together • So much more Some doulas are also qualified in other therapies. Like Wil Meijer-Kal, her expertise is classical homeopathy which can be of great benefit during labor.
1. You cannot hurt my feelings in labour 2. I won’t lie to you in labour 3. I will do everything in my power so you do not suffer 4. I will help you to feel safe 5. I cannot speak for you; but I will make sure that you have a voice and I will make sure you are heard