Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What does a doula do?

Although I've heard a lot about doulas I've never quite known what they actually do. Lucy Symons, Clinical Hypnotherapist and Doula shares her experience with Planet Mummy.

Hi Lucy, so tell me, how do you define what a doula does?
A doula, which is Greek for "woman servant",  is an emotional and physical support for a woman during her pregnancy, labour, birth and then afterwards in her home.

In your experience do midwives work well with doulas?
I guess it depends on the doula! The midwives I work with know that I'm there to support them as well as the parents, so they tend to welcome me with open arms as they know I'll do the rubbish jobs (I'm dead handy with a sieve, me). Most midwives are so pushed administratively that they are thrilled to find a client who has her doula with her, because the midwife knows the client will be calmer and less needy, labouring with confidence - meaning the midwife can get on with their paperwork or looking after the other women in their care.

Are doulas there for both the parents or predominantly the mother?
We mother the mother and her partner. It is vital that the mother is relaxed to release oxytocin (the hormone vital for labour and birth) and sometimes knowing she is supported, safe and her partner is ok and being looked after is all she needs to let go and let her body get on with labouring without interrupting the process. Sometimes it is important for the partner to be given a job to allow them an excuse to get some air or have a break - I frequently send them for ice (almost impossible to find in a hospital).

If a couple are looking to hire a doula what should they look for?
Go to DoulaUK and type in your post code and all the doulas near you will pop up. Meet several with your partner as it is a very personal thing; pick the one you like the best, feel is most sympathetic and suits you the most. The best advice I have heard about picking a doula was to ask yourself this: "Is this a woman I could share a loo with?" More practical questions are on the DoulaUK website.

In what way do you think the birthing experience has changed for women in recent years?
Don't get me started! There is currently a huge shortage of midwives. They're generally lovely people, but they are working in a pretty broken system and are frequently having to suggest ways of encouraging or speeding up labour because they are trying to juggle bums on beds instead of just focussing on what is best for a woman and her baby. As a woman in labour, you need to be able to tell the difference between an administrative issue and a medical problem in labour and respond accordingly by asking the right questions - not easy when you are slightly preoccupied, given that you are having whopping great contractions and all... There are a lot of restrictions on hospitals and quotas and policies which effect the care you may get. Group B strep is something which is causing concern in some hospitals; older clients who are perfectly healthy are presenting with pregnancies which are uncomplicated but due to a lack of research in older mothers they are frequently induced on their due dates; women are often told they can't have a homebirth or use the hospital of their choice because they didn't book in soon enough... oh I could go on for hours...

Have you had experience of using a doula? Thoughts would be welcome in the comments section.

You can read more about Lucy and her work on her website.

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