Updated: Apr 25, 2020
AUTHOR: Lee Reicheneder
A Doula is a non-medical birth provider also known at times as a birth keeper.
Doulas may be either certified, trained, training or simply derive their knowledge from life experiences, along with their strong desire to support families in their transition from pregnancy to parenthood. Being non-medical providers means providing absolutely no medical care and holding no responsibility for mother or baby's health at any time.
So NO not a cheaper Midwife. In fact, roles are often quite different.
The word Doula means “One who mothers the mother”, she or he offers emotional support, physical support, practical and/or educational support to the birthing individuals and their immediate family (partner/s and children etc) during pregnancy, birth and/or postpartum.
Pregnancy & Birth Doulas
A Pregnancy & Birth Doula is often perceived to be a cheaper version of a Midwife (medical care provider) and/or believed by some to be an unnecessary part of a birth team because the birthing individual has acquired the care of wonderfully supportive midwives or obstetrician.
Unfortunately, both are two of the most common misconceptions about care providers and birth teams. These misconceptions can also become damaging for those who in birth find themselves unsure on their rights, struggle to voice their choices during childbirth, and potentially feeling pressured into consenting to procedures they otherwise would have declined had they felt supported to do this.
Studies have demonstrated that having both continuity of care during pregnancy and birth along with continuous support during childbirth have the ability to improve outcomes for birthing individuals as well as their infants. If the family has elected to have a Homebirth with a Midwife that they really click with then that continuity of care and support may very well be achieved without the presence of a Doula; however, if the family have elected to have a hospital birth then that continuity and support is often harder to acquire through Midwives or Obstetricians - Doulas can help here
The common misconception that a medical care provider will be able to be with the family 100% of the time, providing massage, hip squeezes, information and any other practical, informational or educational support (especially for hospital births) can sometimes lead to disappointment during birth when they realise:
their chosen medical care provider is not with them all of the time
their medical care provider is unable to focus on emotional support
their chosen medical care provider was unable to arrive until right at the end
they are faced with unfamiliar Midwives or Drs due to shift change or emergency
Continuity of care has been demonstrated to be of great importance for birthing individuals; therefore, when families are placed in situations similar to those listed above this can be confronting and stressful. In addition, there can sometimes be unforeseen situations where a labour changes course and emergency intervention is required. Consequently, medical care providers become focused on your physical health and well-being, along with the baby. This situation can be difficult for the one birthing as well as the partner. In these situations, partners may feel substantial pressure in their attempt to separate themselves from situations enough to provide effective support as a result of the understandable fear they may also be experiencing. In fact, in these situations partners are likely to experience concern for the baby and for you. Another reason often provided for not requiring a Doula is the belief or intention that the birthing individuals partner will support them. In instances where the birthing woman has a partner who is well informed, and well versed in matters relating to pregnancy and birth, the partner may successfully provide support in a similar manner to a Doula. However, this would require the partner to be well versed, able to remind the birthing individual of their rights, encourage the voicing of choices, or concerns. It would also require the partner to confidently hold the birth space for the birthing woman, regardless of the environment they are in, or any scenario that may present itself. This can be a difficult and sometimes an impossible task for many partners to carry out. Especially if the birth takes an unexpected turn resulting in emergency interventions as highlighted above. The partner may also require support during these times, as situations like these can be difficult for you both. None of these are desirable situations for any family unit to be placed into. Even in times where the Doula is unable to be physically present at the birth itself they can still be of great beefit by helping to prepare yourself and your partner for birthing in hospitals or other environments in confidence without the Doulas physical presence. This simple preparation time alone helps to support youself and your partners so they can confidently support your without a Doula at the birth.
A Doula is a non-medical care provider that is usually trained in physiology and psychology of pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum periods. They are employed by you, for you, and are there to support your family unit in working towards your own individual best possible birth; regardless of environment or scenario.
Although Doulas are there to help you achieve your best possible birth, it is important to note that every birth and situation is unique; no Doula can or should guarantee any particular situation or outcome for any birth. A Doula can/should only guarantee that they will support you as best they can through non-medical psychological support, non-medical physical support, and informational support as determined by your unique individual circumstance and their scope of practice.
You ARE the Doula’s no.1 priority on arrival at your birth and the Doula will stay with you throughout the process excluding brief 5-15min toilet breaks every so often
Non-medical Physical, Psychological, and Informational Support are usually provided at the birth while working alongside other non-medical or medical members of your birth team. When your Doula is with you at your birth she/they/he will provide unwavering non-medical physical, psychological and informational support working alongside other members of your care team. The Doula becomes a crucial part of your birth support team working alongside your medical providers and family through your pregnancy and birth. Medical providers (or yourself if you are planning an unassisted birth) would work towards ensuring your safety and baby’s safety; the Doula focuses on non-medical aspects. The exception to this usually occurs at home births with homebirth Midwives where many provide both medical and non-medical aspects (similar to the roles carried out by Doulas) at your home birth provided you find yourself an amazing Midwife that you click with and is able to carry all of these tasks out. Although it can still be wonderful and beneficial for the entire birth team (yourself, your partner, your midwife etc) to have a Doula present as well if you find someone you click with as it can allow support for the whole team. Non-medical aspects during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum often involve: providing education and emotional support during the pregnancy, aiding with your physical and psychological comfort during childbirth (back massage, relaxation excersises or techniques, preparing baths, holding the shower hose on your skin where you may be uncomfortable, keeping heat packs warm and in positions, using essential oils, dimming lighting, ensuring your music is playing, translating medical jargon so you can make informed choices throughout, providing encouragement, drinks and food etc),, catering to any practical needs (cooking, cleaning, watching or supporting children) and finally ensuring you remain informed and feel supported throughout.
When working towards a positive, empowering pregnancy, birth and postnatal experience as a family, it is important to find both medical and non-medical care providers aligned with your beliefs and goals. For this reason, it is important to remember that no medical care provider is the same, and neither are Doulas. It is a good idea to speak to several Doulas to ensure you have found your best Doula.
ARTICLE DISCLAIMER: Lee is a Canberra Doula who also spent over 5 years working in the childcare field as a childcare educator (including as a Room Leader); she holds relevant children's services qualifications alongside Doula qualifications. In addition, Lee holds a wide range of qualifications and training in fields that include but are not limited to trauma and natural therapies. Lee is a proud Aspie woman and mother of 5 children (2 with disabilities). If you have concerns about your child's development, family member's wellbeing or your own wellbeing speak to your Midwife or Doctor - the information within this article should not be viewed as and is not designed as medical advice. Furthermore, a small commission is made on some of the links provided within these blog articles.
If you would like to find out more you can have a read through our other blog posts; alternatively, you can get in touch with us to arrange a FREE initial Doula meet. We would love to get to know you.
~ Blessings from Lee your Canberra Doula, Travelling Doula & Student Energy Healing Practitioner