The word “doula” has its origins in Greece and translates to “woman who serves” – and it’s a person who’s been trained to provide emotional and physical support to a mother before, during, and after childbirth.
Doulas are different from midwives and doctors in that they are typically not formally trained in medicine. But, studies have found there are many benefits to using a doula to help bring a baby into the world, including being more likely to breastfeed successfully, a shorter labour and reduced use of pain medication.
Writer, editor and mother of two Kelly Norwood-Young agrees wholeheartedly, having used a doula for the birth of her second child, Piper. “I didn’t have a doula for my first birth, and while I did still manage a natural birth, it was incredibly tough. I was a block of anxiety and as a result, the pain was immense. For my second birth, I’d done a lot more research, and was in a different space mentally and emotionally,” says Kelly. While she credits her mindset and the preparation she’d done for playing a big role, she says having a doula at her second birth also made a huge difference.
Here are five ways doulas can help during labour:
Less anxiety and fear
A doula can help reduce anxiety or fear that arises before and during labour. This is not only important for a more pleasant experience, but is also crucial for pain management and the progression of labour, as anxiety has been shown to increase the need for medical intervention. And it’s not just for moms: doulas can also assure partners or spouses that what they’re witnessing is “normal” – especially if it’s the birth of their first child. “Having a doula who can reassure your partner and suggest how he or she can help you is also incredibly helpful,” says Kelly. “If they are calm, they are a better support to you.”
A doula can provide physical advice such as encouraging you to change positions, massaging you or suggesting activities that may help with pain management. These could include relaxation exercises, guiding your breathing, suggesting a bath or helping you focus on a particular word or affirmation. If your labour is during the night, a doula can also sit with you and provide support, while your partner gets some much-needed rest before it’s time to push.
When you’re going through the childbirth process, probably the last thing on your mind is capturing these sacred moments – nor is it likely to be front of mind for your partner. But after the event you’ll wish you had recorded some of these once-in-a-lifetime memories, and doulas can often help with photography too. A good doula will only take photos which are to your requirements and respect your privacy, so be sure to chat about your preferences with them beforehand.
They do the thinking for you
Birth is one of the many physical experiences that we can’t fully control. You may have drawn up the “perfect” birth plan, but that typically goes out the window the minute a baby is on its way. Trying to time contractions, or think about when it’s best to head to the hospital, means you stay in your head, and not in your body. Instead, let a doula guide you through the process, so you can fully focus on this life-changing natural experience. “Doulas can help you not overthink, and just trust your body,” says Kelly.
Many mothers feel neglected once baby arrives, which is another thing that doulas can help with. “Theoni visited me twice, chatting through the birth and my feelings, as well as helping with a few other things like breastfeeding,” says Kelly. This goes a long way to ensuring a more positive mental state for you, especially if you’re experiencing motherhood for the very first time.
How to find a doula
Interested in using a doula? Ask around for recommendations and meet with a few different people to see if they’re the right fit for you. Some doulas also have additional skills such as massage, training in sexual abuse triggers during birth, and counselling. Also check if your medical aid plan offers any related benefits, such as Fedhealth who contributes R1 300 to a doula as part of their maternity benefit on most options.