The first thing that Sarah explains to me, is that the better question to ask may be “Why is a Doula?”
Sarah explains: “Doulas are an ancient and timeless response to gaps in care. The role [of a doula] is always going to be highly individualized to time and place and community.”
Today, they cover roles not met by traditional medical providers, family or friends. That may include non-medical support, psycho-spiritual and psycho-social needs, advocacy through birth and pregnancy, education, physical support, anything the family needs…
“There’s a Doula for Every Family”
If you don’t want physical support, maybe you want someone who knows about perinatal disorders. Typically, doulas have an area of expertise which may include: prenatal, birth, postpartum, bereavement, miscarriage. There is no standardized doula, some have certification and formal training but some are very successful without.
- Prenatal Doulas may provide childcare education and resources or references for pediatricians, family leave, chiropractors and more. They can provide activities, meditation, body work and go over early/active labor such as helping you time contractions.
- Birth Doulas usually include some prenatal care, as well, and a few postpartum appointments. Birth doulas may help you practice positions in labor, breathing techniques and show the birth partner how to help move and support their partner in labor. A doula may include a little bit of everything including therapy or perhaps making sure that families can get connected with professional support. Doulas will usually be on call for random late-night texts, and closer to due date will be available to clients 24 hrs a day. Sarah mentions that she will gladly go to her client’s house and sit with them if necessary. Some doulas will meet their clients at the place of birth and can also help them know when to call a provider or go in to the birth center / hospital. During birth, a doula can provide support by answering questions: “Is this normal? Is this ok? Is this safe?” The doula can also advocate for the pregnant person in hospital or simply remind providers what the pregnant person wants (lights off, knock before coming in, etc.) Sarah’s running list of things she’s checking on during birth include: do they need to drink, eat, rest, suggestions for positions, setting the vibe with lights and aromatherapy and simply being a calming presence to both the pregnant person and their partner. A doula devotes themselves to providing comfort, wiping the pregnant person’s forehead, feeding them and offering words of comfort.
- Postpartum Doulas can help provide a realistic view of how the birth went. Sometimes we only remember the worst parts, and a doula can remind you of the great things you did. A postpartum doula may provide help caring for the newborn such as infant massage, support for siblings and pets, herbal support such as sitz bath, tea or essential oils, mental support and body work such as massage, acupressure, stretching or posturing the body. Birth and nursing can be very hard on the body and some of these practices can provide relief or help close and heal hipbones.
Sarah describes a typical Doula visit:
“I might arrive at 6:30pm, bring dinner and let mom take a shower, clean up after dinner, help put kids to bed, fold laundry and pick up around the house. Then I can answer any questions and set goals (example goal: parent gets 4 hours of sleep). I help burping, changing and settling baby back down for sleep. I would help set them up for nursing and make sure they feel confident and not alone.”
How do I Find a Doula?
Sarah explains that a good time to reach out to a Doula is around week 20 in your pregnancy. You can set up an interview process to find a doula who fits with your beliefs and pregnancy. Every doula has an individual way of doing things and being there for the family. During the interview you might ask them about their philosophy and approach or what they would do in a certain situation.
Then you will create a contract which outlines how many meetings before/after birth, what your needs are and what you would like to accomplish. You can also usually set up payment schedules or sliding scales, or even register for a doula in your baby shower.
During the pandemic support is still available. If doulas aren’t able to join you at the hospital they may be able to support you at home before going to the hospital. Some people will also not feel comfortable in the home, but you can also find practical support by phone or virtually.
*Sarah is no longer providing doula services. Please contact your local Beach Cities birth center so we can give you recommendations specific to you and your location!