Doula?… What’s a Doula?

Ann Caird, postnatal Doula and infant sleep consultant

Following on from Ann’s first post on the subject of breast feeding she goes back to basics and explains the growing profession that is Doula…

Doula – pronounced ‘doola’ is an ancient Greek word meaning ‘caregiver or woman servant’. ‘Doula’ used today to refer to an experienced woman who is specifically trained to offer emotional, social and practical support to parents-to-be before, during and after childbirth. Although Doulas come from a variety of backgrounds, in our role as doulas we do not make medical diagnoses, advise or carry out clinical or medical tasks; we have a purely nurturing, supportive and empowering role.

Birth Doulas support parents during pregnancy and comforts, supports and reassures throughout labour and childbirth. The birth doula offers continuous support throughout labour helping to reduce stress, and can provide relaxation techniques such as massage. Research suggests that a birth doula’s presence can have many beneficial consequences for the parents and baby in reducing the need for epidurals and medical interventions, reducing duration of labour, decreasing the chance of caesarean section, and promoting breastfeeding. Doula trainer Valerie Goedkoop discusses the role of the Birth Doula.

Postnatal Doulas provide social, emotional and practical help which guides and supports mothers and families during the fourth trimester, or postpartum period. In effect, this support ‘mothers the mother’ and nurtures the family through the necessary transitions into its new roles and responsibilities.

Postnatal Doulas offer varied, flexible support to meet individual and family needs. We can also provide information and signpost parents to further support and services if required. Practical support may include cooking a meal, care of newborn, supporting breast or bottle feeding, and caring for older siblings while mum rests. This kind of help promotes the mother’s physical and emotional wellbeing, allowing her time to rest, enjoy and bond with her new baby. Doulas offer non-judgemental support; we support the new mother’s developing parenting instincts and skills thus empowering her in her new role. Our support can also help to reduce negative emotional and lifestyle factors such as stress, exhaustion, isolation and anxiety which may interact to increase the risk of postnatal depression. Central to the doula’s role is listening and ‘being’ which allows mothers to express, clarify and validate their feelings and emotions. We can recognise early symptoms of depression, support early diagnoses and thus encourage swift recovery.

Postnatal Doula support also has positive effects on breastfeeding. Research conducted by Nurturing Birth founder and doula trainer Valerie Goedkoop demonstrated that 88% of women who had a postnatal doula were still breastfeeding at 6 weeks, and 67% were still breastfeeding at 6 months. This compares with 21% at six weeks and only 7% at 3 months nationally, according to the Infant Feeding Survey of 2004 (Bolling et al, 2007).

The following websites provide more information and have facilities for finding local birth or postnatal doulas.

Doula UK the UK’s leading Doula organisation

Nurturing Birth the UK’s largest doula training organisation

Additional reading

Post Natal Doula & Preparation for Birth

Social support by Doulas during and after birth

The Doula and maternity care

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