A doula makes the difference

It was just after 8pm on a Friday evening. I was sitting on my bed with my friend Cornelia next to me. We were happily chatting about recipes, movies and the look on my husband Gavin’s face when he saw his son for the first time. It could have been any Friday evening, but it wasn’t. Just 2 hours earlier I was heaving and pushing to bring my son into the world.

Gavin had gone with the nurses to have our baby boy weighed and bathed. If Cornelia - my friend, my doula - was not there, I would have been alone. A new mom, but completely alone.

What is a doula?

A doula, sometimes called a birth-assistant, is someone who provides support and encouragement during labour and birth, but possibly also before and after. The word comes from the Ancient Greek for a woman in service.

The role of a doula

The main role of a doula is to ensure a happy and memorable birth experience, by providing support and encouragement to the mom-to-be. Your doula helps you to stay calm and relaxed. During labour your doula provides pain relief through massage, breathing-techniques or suggested labour positions. During birth, your doula stays at your side at all times. A doula does not replace your partner, but encourages participation, gives reassurance and can step in when the dad-to-be needs a break.

Many new fathers say that the presence of a doula allows them to provide better support to their partners. The new dad feel less fear, less pressure to remember everything learnt at antenatal class, does not need to interpret his partner’s needs and does not feel as guilty taking a short break or being called away for paperwork or other duties.

What are the benefits of a doula?

There are many benefits given by researchers and mothers:
  • A happier birth experience
  • Less anxiety and stress
  • Objective input
  • Emotional support
  • Not feeling like a sick person
  • An “understanding” that only another woman can provide
  • A greater feeling of self-worth and importance
  • Assistance in the carrying out of the birth plan
  • Less need for pain  medication and epidurals
  • Shorter labour
  • A decrease in operative vaginal deliveries and caesarean births
  • Greater breastfeeding success
  • Lower rates of postnatal depression
  • The feeling that they will be a good mother
How do I choose a doula?

Your doula needs to be someone you get along with, trust and who will be able to give you their full support and not be distracted by the new arrival. This may sound heartless, but your midwife, gynae and nurses (and you and your partner) will take care of the wellbeing of your baby. Your doula is there to take care of you. A doula does not need any medical training, but must have an understanding of the birth method you choose, as well as know relaxation and breathing techniques. Your doula should also be able to provide pain relief without medication, such as massage, placement of warm towels or labour positions.

For me the presence of my doula was priceless. I cannot imagine giving birth any other way.

For more information on locating a doula or becoming one yourself, you can visit Doula South Africa.

Is a doula a valuable part of the birth team or merely someone who will get in the way?

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