Historically, women have always helped other women in childbirth. The support of women has been a profound element of birth throughout the ages. Sisters, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, cousins, friends used to attend birth to offer comfort and strength to the birthing person.
This is no longer common as the standard birthplace changed from a home to a hospital setting. The dynamic of birth support transitioned to more of a physician-based care vs. having your village providing that care. There’s now a gap between the village and physician-based care.
This gap is now filled by Professional Labour Support Workers known as Doulas.
What Is A Doula?
A Doula is like a tour guide in the land of birth, who helps families navigate birth and motherhood. The World Health Organization has recommended that every person giving birth should have a doula. That’s how important the role of a doula is. The formal definition of doulas as defined by The Meriam-Webster dictionary is “a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support and physical comfort to a mother before, during and just after childbirth”.
What Birth And Postpartum Doulas Do
A birth doula (also called a labour doula) provides physical and emotional support to the birthing person and their partner. Because they don’t have to take care of the medical side of things and worry about charting, the equipment working or fetal heart tones, they are free to just be there for the birthing person and their family. A birth doula works to create a personalised experience and this is achieved by establishing a relationship with the birthing person and understanding their birth preferences. Do they want medicated, unmedicated, vaginal birth, planned caesarean, home birth, hospital birth? Knowing what the birth person or the couple wants helps doulas offer suggestions and provide physical and emotional support that can lead to a better birth experience.
During birth, a doula helps you through all the different labour positions and breathing techniques. They also help facilitate communication between different members of the birth team including your doctor, midwife, nurse and family. Evidence shows that doula care vastly improves birth outcomes – lower intervention rates and shorter labour time.
One important element of a doula is that they provide continuous care, but more importantly continuous labour support especially at the hospital. There are not usually any shift changes. A doula won’t leave your side at the hospital (except maybe to get you food or drink or ice chips!) Your doula stays with you the entire time.
A postpartum doula provides care after the baby is born. They are there mainly to support the new parent. They can help with breastfeeding, folding laundry, doing the dishes, going to the grocery store, preparing light meals, holding the baby so you can sleep, helping you learn what is normal, and assisting with everything you could need to feel supported. We no longer have the village we used to have hundreds of years ago where new parents were surrounded by women who would care for them. Postpartum doulas bridge that gap, because it’s not easy to care for a newborn all on your own.
One of the most important things that birth and postpartum doulas bring with them is knowledge and education. You don’t have to google things and hope that the information you read is accurate – there’s an overwhelming amount of info out there and it’s remarkably tricky to know what is good advice and what is bad advice.
When To Hire A Doula
You can hire a doula at any time in your prenatal journey. Some people hire birth doulas very early on in their pregnancy, as early as their first trimester. Some wait until the end to hire one. We recommend looking for a doula sooner rather than later (as soon as you find out you’re pregnant!), because doulas tend to book up very quickly. To ensure that there’s availability, we encourage you to reach out as early as possible in your pregnancy.
We also recommend that you meet with several birth doulas and postpartum doulas to find one who would be the best fit for you and your family. The fit goes both ways. To help you, we have put together a list of the top 10 questions to ask the doulas you are speaking with so that you can find that one doula that you are comfortable with and provides enough informational support to make you want to hire them.
If you’d like to learn more about what birth and postpartum doulas do to support you and your partner, we have a free doula info night where you can meet some of Oona doulas and ask all of your questions in a non-judgemental space.
Doula Vs Midwife
The main difference between a doula and a midwife is that a doula provides emotional and physical support, while a midwife provides medical care.
One of the most common questions we get is: what is the difference between a doula and a midwife? While there is definitely a bit of overlap in terms of how a doula and a midwife assists a pregnant person during labour.
Doulas are not there to provide advice on medical issues – they are there to help you advocate for yourself, and help you and your partner have an easier birth. A midwife is a healthcare professional who provides expert primary care to pregnant women and their newborns. They perform medical procedures, charting and monitor both you and the baby. They can’t always be by your side coaching you through each contraction, especially in a hospital birth, where they have a ton of paperwork to complete. That’s where Doulas come in. They provide that gap and can be there for you every step of the way.
A doula supports your birth partner too, not just the labouring person. They give your partner a break and support them emotionally as well.
Doulas In Hospital Births Vs. Doulas In-Home Births
The main differences between a doula in a hospital birth and a doula in a home birth, other than the obvious location difference, is the continuity of care provided by a doula in either birthing situation, and also the fact that a doula does not have to complete paperwork during your birth!
During a hospital birth, if you are birthing with medical professionals such as an OB, you will be assigned a certified nurse. However, statistically this nurse will be with you for 30% of your birth – while they are assigned to you, they have other responsibilities which means that they are definitely not at your side as your labour coach for the duration of your birth. Think about that for a second – this means that you are on your own for 70% of the time that you are in labour with no one around that has medical training. And as confident as we are that your partner is loving and wonderful, unless your partner has birthed a baby before, you are better off with a doula for that other 70%.
If you are birthing with a midwife in a hospital setting, the midwife will need to input chart information into the computer every 20 minutes. So while you are likely to have more individual attention with a midwife during a home birth, they still have many other things to attend to during your labour, which will take them away from coaching you through your labour. This is where your doula comes in.
Pan England put it succinctly:
“Asking your partner to be your sole guide through labour is like asking them to lead the way on a climb of Mt Everest. They may be smart and trustworthy, you may love them, but in the Himalayas you’d both be a lot better off with a Sherpa!” – Pam England
With respect to a home birth, while the midwife has fewer paperwork responsibilities, in addition to making sure that you are coping well with your birth, they will be primarily responsible for your safety and your baby’s safety during your birth. During a long birth, your midwife may need to switch shifts with another midwife, but your doula will be there with you for the duration of your birth, likely without a shift change. The doula’s only concern is your well-being and how you are coping with your birth, and you are their sole focus.
Doulas Cost & Services Offered
Because we believe having a doula is such an important part of your journey and that it’s important to be mindful of maternal and infant health, we have a roster of experienced doulas on our team. We offer the following doula services at Oona: Birth Doulas Package, Postpartum Doulas Package and Overnight Doula Package.
For the most accurate and up-to-date information on our Doula Packages and Pricing, please visit our Doula Services page.
Book A Virtual Consultation Today
To find a doula, please complete the form on our website.
We look forward to matching you with a doula soon!