While I’m hoping most of you will know, even if a little vaguely, what a doula is, I bet you didn’t know that this is World Doula Week. Across the world doulas, mothers, fathers and those that work with them are celebrating the growing global doula movement. Here on Baba Blog, they’re celebrating by finding out a bit more about doulas here in the UK and have asked Doula UK to help. So, here’s more on what they are, why you might want one and how to go about finding a doula of your very own:
What is a doula?
When someone asks me what a doula is, I love it when someone I’ve worked with is around to answer it for me. They invariably describe my role in a way that’s easy to understand and relate to. Here’s a summary of what a recent client said:
“I wanted someone who was there solely for me and my partner. Someone experienced, who’d been round the block a bit with pregnancy, birth and having a new baby. Someone who was there just for us, without any agenda, without an opinion, without loads of unwanted advice. I needed someone who could listen to me and help me process my fears and hopes. I needed someone I could get to know really well who would be there during labour and birth; someone I had developed trust in and someone who knew what I wanted, how to calm me and my partner and who really trusted us.
My partner needed to know he wasn’t solely responsible for all my non-medical needs. He was frankly terrified at the thought of keeping me calm, relaxed, remembering the stuff from the antenatal classes, keeping me fed and watered, doing practical stuff, communicating with the midwives etc all by himself, never having been at a birth before. He need a wing woman!
I wanted someone calm around to give us confidence as new parents. Somebody who wouldn’t take over. A person who could keep a calm, welcoming environment around us in the first hours after birth. Someone who wouldn’t sew seeds of doubt in our minds and would signpost us to help if we needed it. I needed someone to moan about my family to, someone who actually understood the behaviour of a breastfed baby and would explain it to us before we got in to a state for no reason.
I felt like I would have had all this available to me long ago, when we all lived in tight knit communities and watched our mothers, sisters, aunts and friends being pregnant, giving birth and having babies. But now I couldn’t remember even holding a baby before and the only information I’d got about the process was from the TV or horror stories from friends. I knew something was missing and I knew I needed and deserved proper support so that I could enjoy becoming a mother. That’s when I found out about doulas and realised that there were people who could provide exactly what I needed.”
So, that’s a doula from a new mothers-eye-view. In more practical terms it’s someone experienced who has usually undergone some specific preparation for her doula role. She usually is hired privately by new families but sometimes provided by a voluntary scheme. A doula can offer non-medical support, complementing a midwife’s role, during pregnancy and birth and/or specific support after the birth depending on what the family want and need.
A birth doula will usually meet a woman/couple several times in pregnancy and be on hand on the phone and via email to provide support and encouragement. She is ‘on call’ for them for a dedicated period around the time they expect their baby to arrive and will join them when needed during the labour staying with them until the baby is born and the couple feel happy for them to leave; whether they plan to stay at home or give birth in hospital. They will then visit one or two times after the birth to help settle the new family in to life together.
A postnatal doula starts her support after the birth, providing as many weekly visits as necessary. She will help with feeding, give emotional support, signpost the couple to any resources they need and help them build their confidence as new parents. She will often provide light help around the house, making nourishing food, putting washing on and giving new mothers a chance to shower and sleep.
Why would I want the support of a doula?
The above may have given you a good idea of why many women and their families are choosing to work with doulas and why doula support is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. To summarise, you might want to consider having a doula if:
- you feel that unconditional and continuous support during pregnancy, birth and the first weeks with you new baby is important
- you had a difficult time during the birth of your last baby and want some support in coming to terms with this and developing a positive plan for a new pregnancy
- you feel your birth partner would benefit from a wing-woman
- you want to feel confident and positive about birth and life with a new baby and could do with some support to get there
- you need or want to avoid an unnecessary intervention during labour and birth. A 2011 Cochrane Review of Continuous Support During Labour concluded that: “Women who received continuous labour support were more likely to give birth ‘spontaneously’, i.e. give birth with neither caesarean nor vacuum nor forceps. In addition, women were less likely to use pain medications, were more likely to be satisfied, and had slightly shorter labours. Their babies were less likely to have low five-minute Apgar scores. No adverse effects were identified. We conclude that all women should have continuous support during labour. Continuous support from a person who is present solely to provide support, is not a member of the woman’s social network, is experienced in providing labour support, and has at least a modest amount of training, appears to be most beneficial.“
- you would like some support as you and your baby set off on your breastfeeding journey. A Doula UK survey last year found that women were 25% more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding at six weeks if they were working with a doula
Ok, I’m sold. How do I find a doula?
Doula UK is the largest network of doulas in the UK and runs a ‘Find a Doula’ service on their website.
Doula UK doulas will have attended an approved doula preparation course and will be undergoing or have already finished a period of working with an experienced mentor. Doula UK doulas will also have signed up to a Code of Conduct and Philosophy and there is a complaints procedure in place. These doulas will also provide you with a page to go in to your maternity notes to let your midwives and doctors know that you are working with a doula and explain a little more about about the role.
It’s always good to contact a few doulas and arrange to meet for an informal chat. There are some suggested questions to ask on the Doula UK website, but most people find their choice is governed by who is available and who they ‘click’ best with. Remember this is someone you’ll be spending quite a bit of fairly intense time with so the most important thing is to get on well.
How much will it cost?
Doulas set their own fees and these vary depending on experience and location.
If you are on a low-income you may be eligible to apply to the Doula UK access fund which provides a free birth or postnatal doula to those who would otherwise be unable to access that support.
Doula who are still going through the mentoring process at Doula UK charge at the lowest end of the spectrum and are encouraged to cover their expenses only. Though they will have less experience they will have undergone a doula preparation course and may well have worked with a few families already. This can be a great low cost option.
Postnatal mentored doulas charge around £10/h.
In London an experienced birth doula will charge from around £600-£1200. Outside of London you can expect to pay significantly less. It can seem like a lot of money, but do remember the hours the doula will be working before, during and after the birth and that she will often be unable to take on any other work during the four plus weeks that she is ‘on call’ for you.
Experienced postnatal doulas charge around £20/h.
Doula UK doulas will be happy to accept gift vouchers to cover all or part of their fee which means family and friends can treat you. Many will be happy to be paid in instalments and some are happy to accept bartering for all/part of their fee – with clients offering their time, skills or services as a swap for the doulas.
How do I become a doula?
If you are interested in thinking about whether being a doula might be right for you, this article is a good place to start. Think about attending a “Introduction to the work of a doula” workshop and, if you think it will work for you take a look at Doula UK’s list of approved preparation courses and take your first step.