Have you heard about birth doulas? Over here we’re huge fans of birth doulas- we had one for both of our kids’ births and the benefits were amazing. My amazing sister has written up a wonderful article for us about the benefits of a birth doula and why every birthing mom can use one!
About Our Guest Poster- Becca
Hey there! I’m Becca – an extroverted, Jesus-loving, coffee-obsessed wife and homeschooling mom of 3 boys with a passion for all things related to birth. (I also happen to be Mama Shark’s sister.) Here I am with my newest little guy who joined our family in February 2019.
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The Best Birth Advice- Hire a Birth Doula
If a pregnant friend asks me for my top piece of advice for labor or birth, my immediate response is “hire a doula!” – but why?
There is some helpful research out there about how continuous professional labor support (which is what a doula provides) leads to better outcomes for both mom and baby. But in this post, I’m not going to focus on the technical stats. Instead, I’m going to be sharing my personal reasons for hiring a doula using examples from my most recent birth experience.
My Birthing Context
For some context, I’ve had the privilege to carry and birth 3 sweet boys. Each birth was very different! My first (Quentin) was born at our local hospital while I was under the care of nurse-midwives.
It was a long labor, but even with the increased difficulty of pitocin augmentation (to make contractions stronger) I was able to make it through without pain meds and delivered vaginally. My husband was a helpful support, but we didn’t have a doula and we both struggled through certain parts of the process.
We planned to have our second baby (Edison) at a birth center with a certified professional midwife. I had a strong desire for a more home-like atmosphere and highly personalized care. We hired a doula for this birth, which made a huge difference in our level of preparation and ability to work though labor.
However, after a perfect pregnancy and joy-filled labor, Edison’s umbilical cord prolapsed (began coming out before his head)- an unpredictable obstetric emergency that requires immediate C-section delivery.
After transport to the hospital close to the birth center, Edison was born via C-section while I was under general anesthesia. We got to spend 13 holy and heartbreaking days with him in the NICU before he went to be with Jesus due to brain trauma from lack of oxygen during the transport process. To be clear, my care providers at the birth center did everything right and more- it’s a long story, but that’s for another post!
When we were pregnant with our newest (Webster), my husband and I decided to have him at our local hospital with the same nurse-midwife practice that I used with Quentin. Since trying for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) carries some additional risks, we both felt the wisest place for us for this birth would be in a hospital setting.
I had also developed a closer relationship with some of the local nurse-midwives (through The Motherhood Collective) and felt very comfortable working with them to create a birth plan that was as low-intervention as possible. So why still hire a doula again? I’m so glad you asked! Let’s start with one of the most common points of confusion that comes up….
Should you hire a birth doula when you have a supportive husband or labor partner already?
My husband, Kyle, is an amazing support when I’m in labor. He’s always there giving me verbal encouragement, hugging me, helping me through every single contraction. He knows my quirks, how to make me laugh, and can translate my laboring language that sometimes comes out in grunts and whale-like moans.
But as the picture above illustrates, having both a doula and a supportive husband makes for an incredible team! The continuous presence of Kyle and my doula, Debbie, allowed me to receive physical support from one while the other supported me emotionally or mentally.
I remember sitting on the birth ball in the shower, with Kyle using the shower head to run warm water on my back and Debbie in front of me talking me through the contractions. Or Debbie holding my leg in a side-lying release position to help open my pelvis while Kyle laid behind me in the bed. Or standing and squatting, pressing into Kyle’s hands while Debbie applied pressure on my back.
At the very end, Debbie was up by my head (encouraging me to slow down my pushing, which I refused to do- sorry not sorry) while Kyle got to help catch Webster! What a magical moment – I had the support I needed and Kyle got to be the one to receive our baby into his hands.
A doula doesn’t replace a husband or other labor partner. A doula compliments their skill set in the best way possible. The doula’s knowledge about labor, birth, and comfort combined with a partner’s knowledge of the laboring woman’s personality and preferences makes for a truly powerful experience. Here are some of the ways that a doula provides that support:
A Birth Doula Provides Physical Support
This is probably the obvious one: a doula provides physical support throughout labor and birth. In this picture, Debbie is doing something called “abdominal lifts and tucks” which is a Spinning Babies technique designed to help baby’s head engage into the pelvis to make contractions more effective and get baby out sooner.
She supported me like this for a series of 9 contractions, helping me to stretch upwards between each one. During the course of my labor, Debbie helped me get into several other positions specifically to help Webster navigate his way down through my pelvis. Many of those positions were not the most comfortable, but they got the job done!
Because I know that Debbie is well-informed and well-practiced, I was able to trust her instructions and get myself into positions that I knew would be temporary, potentially uncomfortable, but also incredibly helpful. And they surely worked, considering I was only in active labor for just over 3 hours before Webster was born!
Of course, doulas also provide a lot of physical support that IS comforting. (Refer to the first labor picture above – that pressure on my hips helped relieve so much tension during contractions.)
Doulas can use massage, counter pressure, rebozo techniques, acupressure, aromatherapy, positional suggestions, and more to provide physical comfort in labor. Debbie used all of those and more during my labor with Webster.
Unlike care providers and nurses that are attending to several patients at once, a doula offers support that is continuous, completely personalized, and focused solely on you. A doula’s “toolbox” is full of ways to both enhance labor progress and help relieve the pain and intensity that can accompany the hard work of bringing a baby into the world.
A Birth Doula Provides Mental Support
Beginning with prenatal appointments and all the way through the postpartum period, a doula provides mental support in many different ways. Prenatally, a doula helps to inform her clients about their options during birth and educates them concerning preparation for labor and birth.
Many doulas meet with clients and their partners multiple times before the estimated due date to provide this type of education. After the birth, they will come visit to help assess how you are doing, talk through the birth story with you, refer you to further support if needed, and make sure you are mentally healthy as you settle into the life change of having a new baby.
One of my favorite birth-related quotes is “The best and safest anesthetic is an educated and controlled mind” (Grantly Dick-Read, Childbirth Without Fear).
A doula facilitates this process by providing the mental support necessary to go through the intensity of labor. Because fear leads to tension which leads to pain, being mentally prepared for labor can decrease pain by increasing the knowledge of what labor will involve.
During my labor with Webster, I oscillated between asking Debbie “Are these contractions actually doing anything?? Because they better be!” and “I feel like I’m getting a break. Is that ok???” Debbie reminded me (over and over with so much patience) that yes, my body was doing the work it needed to do. She also reminded me to stop thinking so much and just surrender to what was happening.
Another example of the doula’s understanding of the mind-body connection came toward the very end of my labor. Things were getting very intense while I was in the labor pool, and Debbie asked me “you’re not waiting for Katie to get here, are you?”
I had hoped that my “favorite” midwife in the practice, Katie, would be the midwife for Webster’s birth. We knew she was coming on for her shift in a few hours – and if I had been waiting, either consciously or unconsciously for her to arrive, my mind could very easily have kept my body from finishing the job. Thankfully another amazing midwife was there and I assured Debbie that I wasn’t waiting for Katie – I wanted Webster out!
Debbie understood both my desires and the power of the mind over the body, so she was able to provide the mental support I needed throughout the entire process. With such a quick labor, there is no way I would have been able to get through it with any semblance of mental control without her.
A Birth Doula Provides Emotional Support
A doula provides emotional support by understanding your goals, your fears, your hopes, and even what might be difficult triggers related to past birth experiences. She reassures you that you really can do it, that in fact you are doing it.
This labor was by far my most emotional labor. I never cried during Quentin or Edison’s labors, but there were plenty of tears this time around. Certainly most of those were because of my experience with Edison’s birth, and how everything was going great until basically the last moment when it all changed.
Since Debbie was there with me during my labor with Edison, she understood that when I asked her “Is a baby really going to come out of me?” that I didn’t need a reminder of the mechanics of birth – I needed to be reminded that I was in a safe place. She took my head in her hands and whispered “You are safe. Yes. He really is going to be born.”
Debbie’s demeanor of peace set the tone for everyone else in the birth room – leading to a beautiful, calm atmosphere that was exactly what I needed in order to relax and surrender into the power of labor. She even helped out a little behind-the-scenes by asking for a switch in our L&D nurse when she could tell that the one we were first assigned wasn’t the best fit for our personalities.
When I was whiny and complaining and told Debbie that I was SO tired and sleepy and wanted to rest, she was understanding. When I was frustrated at being “only 5 cm” she took my frustration and helped to turn it into determination.
And oh, the joy and elation she shared with us when Webster was safely born! She truly entered into the emotional experience to provide unwavering, gracious support that anticipated my needs every step of the way.
A Birth Doula May Provide Spiritual Support
I get that not everyone is going to connect with their doula on a spiritual level, and that’s ok. But in my case, Debbie’s spiritual support was absolutely essential.
Why the picture in the birth pool, though? Well, it was an act of faith for me to step into that pool. During my labor with Edison, his cord prolapsed shortly after I had entered the birth pool. And though that situation had nothing to do with the water itself or the act of getting into the pool, it was still seared into my mind that the pool was where it all happened.
The morning before I went into labor, I called Debbie and talked about some tough feelings I was having about going through labor again. She encouraged me, prayed with me through tears, and specifically asked me to spend some time working through the trauma of Edison’s birth as it related to the pool. She knew I was hoping to use the pool during Webster’s labor since I find water very comforting, but we both were aware that it could be very triggering.
When my labor progressed to the point that getting into the pool would be beneficial, Debbie gently suggested that I get into the water to let my body finish opening. I vividly remember that the song “No Longer Slaves” was playing on my labor playlist. Debbie whispered “this is your song, girl” as the lyric rang out “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.” I believe that the Lord absolutely orchestrated that moment, and He used Debbie to remind me that I had no reason to fear.
Throughout my labor, I heard Debbie’s prayers being quietly lifted up as we worked. “Bring his head down, Lord.” “Bring Webster down, help him engage.” She sang along with many of the worship songs on my labor playlist, bringing those carefully-chosen lyrics into my spirit to encourage me and remind me of the truth.
She has walked through my journey of grief after losing Edison, and we have shared many tears, many hugs, many moments of recounting his birth and the significance of his life. And all of those experiences informed her ability to minister to me so powerfully during Webster’s birth. I’m so grateful for her support!
A Birth Doula Becomes Family
A great doula might just end up feeling like part of your family. It’s a position that is very well deserved – she’s been there for some of your most vulnerable and exhilarating moments, after all. The root of the word doula means “woman servant” and doulas pour their heart and soul into making your birth experience as positive as possible.
They don’t take the place of your partner, and they don’t do anything on the medical side like a midwife or obstetrician. No matter where the process of birth takes you, from the hardest moments to the most joyful celebrations, a doula is an invaluable guide along the way.
Thank you for the amazing post, Becca!
Becca is also writing a series for us on how to support grieving families who have lost a baby. The first post can be found here.
If you’re preparing for a birth (or really if you just need some encouragement!), be sure and toss your email in the box below to get our free Scripture affirmations- great for hanging up around the house or in your birthing room!
P.S. If you’re not sure how to get started on finding and interviewing a doula for your birth, check out these Must Ask Doula Interview Questions from MommaMcGovern!
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