How Doulas Help, Part 1- What is a Doula?
What is a doula?
And why would I want one?
If you have no idea what a doula is, you're in good company- it wasn't until I had my third baby that I even heard the term.
Technically speaking, the term doula is the greek word for a female servant. In modern culture the term doula usually refers to a trained and experienced labour support person who offers women (and their partners) emotional and practical support before, during and after childbirth. It can also refer to a trained and experienced woman who supports a new family in the postpartum period. Some doulas provide both birth and postpartum support.
A birth doula comes into your life during pregnancy. She meets you (and your partner) prenatally to get to know you. She wants to know how your pregnancy is progressing, your hopes for your birth, your fears, and your questions- all of them no matter how silly you might think they are. She spends time unpacking each of these in a gentle, nurturing way. Her goal is to give you the information you need to create confidence while supporting your choices for your birth and your baby. She listens. She asks questions. She helps you have a clearer picture of what birth looks like and how she can support you.
A birth doula is a wealth of resources. As a member of a greater professional community, she knows health care practitioners in your community. A massage therapist for your sore shoulders? She's go you covered. A osteopath or chiropractor specializing in infants? Yep. A photographer for those cute baby photos? She knows.
And what about your partner? Your doula listens to find out the best way to provide support. She doesn't take the place of your partner; she supports and guides your partner so that your partner can support you. She makes sure your partner is taken care of so that you can focus on what you are doing.
During labour and birth your doula has your back. From helping you decide when to go to the hospital, to holding your hand during an exam, to making sure you have water and a fluffed pillow, to supporting you when you need to go to the washroom, to answering your questions, your doula does it all. She is as hands-on or hands-off as you want her to be.
Because you have a relationship and you've talked about what helps you, your doula can provide suggestions for positions, give you the information you want about pain management, and provide comfort measures such as massage, encouraging words, and counter-pressure to name just a few. She sees you. She holds the space. She is a calming presence.
Your doula rejoices with you once your baby is born. She stays to make sure you are comfortable as a new family. She supports how you want to feed your baby and helps you figure things out.
She follows up with you once you return home. She hears your story. She fills in the gaps. She encourages you and lifts you up at a time when you are experiencing a flood of new emotions, sensations and experiences.
A postpartum doula can enter your life during pregnancy, right after birth, or really any time during your baby's first few months of life*. She is a nurturing presence whose goal is to care for you so that you can best care for your baby. By doing this she supports your entire family.
She supports you on an emotional level by listening to you over a cup of tea. She is interested in what you have to say and is there to encourage you during the transformative time that is new motherhood. Your worries and fears can be discussed without judgement. Your doula can answer your questions and direct you to other health care professionals you may want or need- that amazing community of professionals she is connected with is at your service. Your doula is a reassuring voice when you are anxious or confused. She allows you to work out what is best for you, your baby and your family while gently encouraging you towards processing your new reality.
Your postpartum doula supports you practically as well. She provides breastfeeding and bottle support. She does light housekeeping such as dishes and laundry. She can fix you snacks or prepare meals for you. She can care for your baby (and other children at home) while you sleep or take that badly needed shower. She can teach you infant care and soothing techniques. She can show you how to use your baby equipment, go for a walk with you and more. Her goal is to support your unique family with whatever it needs.
Some postpartum doulas also provide overnight support and will come to care for your baby so that you can get a full night sleep.
*some postpartum doulas only work with families during the first few months of a baby's life while others will support a family at any point during the first year.
This is really just a sampling of what doulas do. Birth and postpartum doulas specialize in all kinds of things from baby wearing, to sleep education, to massage, to car seat safety education, to aromatherapy, and the list goes on. Those wanting to train as doulas have many professional organizations they can choose from, each with it's own focus. So when all is said and done, no two doulas are alike.
Find the one that's right for you
Stefanie Bittner is a birth and postpartum doula with
~Provides Birth, Postpartum & Overnight Support
~Is trained (2016) and certified (2017) by MotherWit
~Has CPR level C
~Is a CPST (Child Passenger Safety Technician) with CPSAC
~Has taken workshop training through Spinning Babies
~Has been a Marraine (breastfeeding support mom) with
Nourri Source since 2010
~Volunteers in the community at Nourri Source breastfeeding drop-in clinics, as a Moms Group leader and also with preschoolers and toddlers