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What is a doula anyway?!?

September 2013
Bianca Sprague
Bianca Sprague

Bianca Sprague,
CEO of bebo mia

For families that have recently discovered they are expecting, they find themselves in a whole new world of terms, books, products and services. Perineal massage, Chimparoo, placenta encapsulation, cord blood banking, attachment parenting, pee-pee-teepee, oh my! It is like learning a new language. They know they need a health care provider, but do not know the differences among their options. They hear such terms as doula and wonder, "What is that anyway, and do I need one? Is a doula like my doctor or midwife? If I have a midwife, why do I need a doula?" Breathe, we will clarify everything.

So, what is a doula? There are birth doulas and there are postnatal doulas. Birth doulas are with their clients during pregnancy, labour and delivery, they also typically do follow up care postnatally. Postnatal doulas come once you have the baby and do support (day and night) for you, your baby, and your family. In a nutshell, doula care is support: emotional, informational, and physical.

Your doula does not replace your Health Care Provider (Ob/Gyn, GP, or midwife). Your HCP is there to take care of your blood pressure, fetal heart rate, IVs, sutures, and other such procedures. Your doula is there to bridge the gap between you and your HCP. Most people in labour, find that too much is happening "to them" during their births. The doula's goal is to slow down that process and ensure that every step that happens during the labour, delivery, and immediate postnatal period is done by choice - i.e. informed consent. The doula should never be invested in your decision, but rather, support the choices that feel good for the parent(s).

Your birth doula is on call for you to answer questions during pregnancy, they are the first to arrive when you are in labour, and they are the last to leave. A good doula should be prepared to answer everything, from what sensations are normal and how to alleviate them, all the way to what kind of stroller should you get based on your budget and lifestyle.

People are surprised to learn that their doctor or midwife may not be the one attending their delivery, rather it will be one of the many other doctors or midwives in the practice. They are also not aware of the fact that for large chunks of the labour, the mother and her partner are alone in the room. The doula would be a constant care provider, offering suggestions to ease labour and ensuring everyone is well taken care of.

The doula is not there to replace the mother's partner (if she has one). Instead, she allows the partner to be as involved as they feel comfortable. This also allows for partners to sleep, take breaks, eat, and check in with family or friends.

Why have a doula? There are dozens of benefits to doula care. Studies have shown that when a doula is present, labours are shorter with less complications, babies are healthier and breastfeed more easily. The surgical birth rate declines dramatically, there is a decrease in postpartum depression, and mothers generally have a positive emotional connection to the birth, rather than the experience of trauma. Postnatal doulas will ease the transition that comes with the addition of a baby to a family, improve parental satisfaction and reduce the risk of mood disorders.

When selecting your doula, make sure it is someone you feel comfortable with. Interview a few doulas and consider these points while speaking with them:

1. TRUST YOUR GUT! You will know if you feel good with someone and when you feel off. They will be there during the most intimate time in your life, so you want to feel like you are in good hands.

2. The number of births they have attended doesn't always mean that they are better than someone less experienced. It can, but sometimes it is just a meaningless statistic. If you really like someone with less experience, go with them. Don't base it solely on the number of previous births they have attended. Among the bebo mia team, there are some doulas that have serviced 100s of families and some that have been with a dozen, yet they are all fabulous at what they do.

3. Find someone that is open to whatever you want in your delivery. You want to feel supported in your choices, WHATEVER THOSE ARE! We have clients hire us for elective c-sections and others hire us for home, water births. Our team has the same job for all clients - provide physical, emotional, and informational support. Period.

A doula should be on one's "Must Haves" list of their birthing day. They will be your friend, support and guide during one of the most exciting days of your lives!

To watch more about what a doula does, click here.

Bianca Sprague is the CEO for bebo mia and Baby & Me Fitness. She is a birth doula, childbirth educator, and lactation educator. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her daughter, Gray. bebo mia inc. is a full service boutique that specializes in guiding women safely through fertility, pregnancy and parenting. They offer a wide range of support, classes and services to reach the needs of any family. Always passionate about the health and well-being of families, bebo mia recently purchased Canada's first pre/postnatal fitness company, Baby & Me Fitness.