So what exactly is a doula?
The word doula is derived from the Greek for ‘woman caregiver’ – they’re a professional ‘birth companion’, someone who’ll work with you during your pregnancy, to help you prepare for birth, who you'll develop a trusting relationship with, and who'll be there for you during your labour and birth, to support you and give you confidence and strength.
Your doula will remain with you for your entire labour and birth no matter how long this takes. They will also support you in the time after you have had your baby – for days or even weeks, depending on your arrangement.
How do doulas differ from midwives?
A midwife has a very different kind of training and is qualified to help you deliver your baby, to make assessments of your physical health and to know when and how to refer on to a doctor if your birth deviates from the expected normal pathway. A doula, on the other hand, is only there in the role of companion and is not qualified to make any diagnosis or assessment.
Does the doula replace the father’s role?
Absolutely not. Doulas support fathers too during pregnancy, labour and birth. Many dads really appreciate the presence of a doula, who will often take some of the pressure off them to remember everything on the birth plan and do practical tasks. This frees the dad up to just enjoy the birth of his baby.
What kind of person can benefit from a doula?
Anyone can benefit from a doula. If you’re a first-time mum you might really appreciate the extra reassurance that a doula brings, especially knowing you’ll have a familiar person who’ll be with you for the whole of your labour and birth. It’s not uncommon to have just one midwife in the room with you when you give birth and for many new mums, this can be daunting. Having a doula with you can provide extra reassurance.
However, if you’re a second time mum or more, your doula may give you extra support in other ways – perhaps by helping you talk through your first birth experience or by supporting you when your partner is caring for your other children during your labour.
What kinds of things can a doula help with pre-birth?
Doulas are usually very warm and friendly women who have lots of resources, contacts and knowledge about birth, and can help you prepare and make decisions about the kind of birth you want. Some doulas are also antenatal teachers or hypnobirthing specialists too, but even if they’re not, they’ll be able to advise you on other ways to prepare for the different births that are available in your area.
Your doula might accompany you to any appointments you have relating to your pregnancy, and you’ll probably end up becoming close friends with them – talking about your hopes and fears for the birth, or perhaps discuss your previous birth experiences.
Doulas will also help you in practical ways, too, for example by helping with your baby shower or helping you tackle the washing up mountain when you are nine months pregnant and knackered.
And what about after the birth?
Doulas will help and support you post-birth as you get to know your baby. They’ll be able to help you as you learn the basics of dressing, feeding and changing your baby and should empower you with confidence in all of these tasks. Many are also breastfeeding specialists.
Again, they’ll also support you practically, for example, by making you something to eat or tidying up for you – and some doulas will, for an extra charge, work for you for several weeks to help you with your new-born, in your home and even with night-time parenting.
How popular are they in the UK?
There are around 700 doulas in the UK registered with Doula UK, and quite a few more who are independent. The popularity of doulas has been steadily rising over the last 15 years or so, and this is in part due to the lack of continuity of care in the current UK maternity system.
There’s something very valuable about being cared for in labour by someone who is independent from your family, but who you have had the chance to build a relationship of trust with. Unfortunately not many UK women have the chance to get to know their midwife, so the doula fills this role of relationship-based support.
Are there any other benefits of a doula?
Yes – research has found having a doula can shorten first-time labour by an average of two hours; decrease the chance of caesarean section by 50% and decrease the need for pain medication.
If you want a doula, at what stage in your pregnancy should you book?
You can look for a doula at any stage of pregnancy, but the most common time is around the 2nd trimester, which is when many women’s minds turn to planning their birth.
How do you find a good one?
A personal recommendation is always great but the doula role is very much about relationship, so what suited your friend may not be right for you. The best plan is to meet two or three doulas and decide which of them you most ‘click’ with.
If you have a specialist need, such as birth after baby loss, or twins and multiples, you may find a doula who has specific experience in this area. You can find your nearest doulas via Doula UK.
How much will it set you back?
Costs depend on where you live, what you need, what you are able to pay and what your doula is able to offer, but it can be anywhere between zero and £2k for a doula support package (this typically includes ante-natal sessions, the birth, post-birth and up to four post-natal meetings) and anywhere between zero and £30 per hour for a postnatal doula.
If you have limited funds, it’s still worth talking to your local doula, who will often accept payment by instalments, payment in kind, or offer a sliding scale. There’s also an access fund via Doula UK which can support people on low incomes, and a voucher scheme so that friends and family can contribute towards your doula costs.
Milli Hill is a Doula, Author of The Positive Birth Book and expert speaker at The Baby Show being held from 18th-20th May at Birmingham NEC. To find out more about doulas in the UK, visit Doula.org.uk.
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