By Birth Doula, Leah Patara

A doula assists a woman to have the birth of her dreams, by encouraging her to step into her own power. The doula journeys into the unknown with the mother.

She is her guide, confidant, and biggest cheerleader. More and more Australian women are choosing to use the services of a doula to support them during pregnancy, birth and postpartum care than ever before. The reasons are varied and complex.

For some women, a natural homebirth is the goal and a doula can help make that happen.

These women often feel maternity care has become too medicalised and they seek some non-medical support and a continuity of care that traditional maternity care does not offer.

Some women recognise birth as a spiritual experience and wish to be guided through the process as such with a doula. Some of the women reaching for a doula are single mothers, without a partner to share the process with or without family close by.

Some have had a traumatic birth in the past and feel a doula can help alleviate anxiety for their next birth. Some really want another person to help them navigate a hospital birth and many couples just feel out of their comfort zone and want an extra, experienced person to walk through the journey with them and get them into the right environment and head space for birth.

Leah Patara says a doula helps women to have the birth of her dreams by encouraging her to step into her own power.

COVID lockdowns have also fuelled doula support as a mum’s usual tribe just hasn’t been as accessible.

Many high-profile women are choosing doula support which has raised awareness of the service in the wider community. Meghan Markle, Nicole Kidman, Gigi Hadid, Heidi Klum, Kate Hudson and Mila Kunis are a few doula converts.

So what does a doula actually do? During prenatal visits the parents and doula get to know each other, establish trust and desired birth plans. The doula will help prepare the birth plan and contingency plans should plan A not be achievable. The doula will teach the parents to be flexible and to be ready for any scenario.

Meghan Markle used a doula for the births of Archie and Lilibet.

Research suggests the use of a doula decreases anxiety in the pregnant woman by 16.9%. A doula will hold a mother’s hand both physically and metaphorically through the biggest transition of her life.

A doula assisted birth plan will cover who a mother would like with her in the birth room, items the mother would like there, specific requests of carers, whether certain procedures can be used during labour, delivery of the placenta. It should also cover wishes for baby’s first minutes and hours once born.

Often new dads feel scared and helpless when watching their loved one in the throws of contractions. A doula can guide the new dad during this time to be present and useful and to hold space for the process.

The doula plays a very different role to the midwife. The doula is primarily there for emotional and spiritual support. She helps the mother to feel confident in her choices and can advocate for those choices on behalf of the mother.

A doula is primarily there to emotionally and spiritually support the mother.

While the doula helps the mother’s personal transformation to becoming a mother. The midwife plays a more medical role. A midwife is responsible for the health of the baby and mother; they will monitor the baby during labour and birth and perform necessary physical examinations.

It is the midwife that will consult with the obstetrician in case of any complications. The roles complement each other and often a doula and midwife will assist each other during a labour and birth.

Mum-of-three Kate Hudson with her daughter, Rani Rose.

A doula doesn’t walk away once the baby is safely earthside. The doula plays a very important role postpartum – she helps support the emotional and physical recovery needs of the family. Several visits occur post birth.

If there was birth trauma, the doula will help facilitate the healing process. A good doula will help nourish the new mother with particular food and menu plans to help recovery and stimulate breast milk supply. The doula helps reiterate to the new mother and her family the importance of rest particularly during the first few months post birth and ongoing if required.

A doula continues to provide support once the baby is safely earthside.

Often the intensity of the needs of a newborn can be overwhelming for new parents and a doula can provide some confidence and support and even resources to help thrive in this exhausting but incredibly special time. A good doula can help a new mum and dad to feel a sense of calm within their new lives.

Research* shows continuous doula support results in:

  • 39% decrease in Caesarean sections
  • 38% decrease in low AGPAR scores
  • 31% increase in birth satisfaction
  • 16.9% decrease in anxiety
  • 15% increase in spontaneous vaginal birth
  • 12.5% decrease in pain
  • 10% decrease in pain medication use
  • 10% reduction in instrumental birth
  • 8.7% increase in initiation of breastfeeding
  • A labour shorter by 41 minutes

*https://www.cochranelibrary.com/and https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

Leah Patara is a Birth Doula, Conscious Conception Meditation teacher and Creator of Sacred Spaces. She is also the founder of the Womb Room Collective. To find out more visit Leah Patera on Instagram.