What is a doula and why they are growing in popularity in the UK

Every year, more and more women in the UK are turning to doulas to take care of their emotional needs during pregnancy and birth. So just what is a doula and why are so many women opting to pay for doula support?

What is a doula?

Doulas are often experienced mothers who support other women before, during and after the birth of their baby. A doula will work alongside your midwives and can also be used in conjunction with another birth partner, such as your husband or mother.

There are two types of doulas:

A birth doula will usually meet with you antenatally and will assist you as you prepare for labour and birth, sharing evidence-based information that may be relevant to your situation.

During the birth of your baby, she will support you emotionally and will offer physical comfort measures, such as massage. A birth doula will not tell you what to do, but she may act as an advocate for you and will help you to stay in control of your birth experience as much as possible.

A postnatal doula will assist you after your baby is born by running errands, doing light housework or caring for any older children you may have. She can also offer on-going breastfeeding support and will provide opportunities for you to rest and recover from the birth.

Why do women hire doulas?

Doula UK — a non-profit network run for and by doulas — believes that the absence of an extended family, the increased medicalisation of birth and NHS cut backs are the main reasons why a growing number of women are now hiring doulas to support them during their childbirthing year.

With healthcare resources stretched to breaking point, many NHS midwives are struggling to cope with huge work loads and are unable to offer continuous one-to-one care during pregnancy and birth. And with geographical distances between family members as great as they have ever been, expectant mums are often left with very little support when they need it most.

“I felt so alone during my pregnancy,” says first-time mum, Eleanor. “My husband tried his best to be supportive, but he just couldn’t relate to what I was going through.” Unfortunately, Eleanor’s feelings are not uncommon, and it is for this reason that an increasing numbers of women in the UK are turning to doulas to provide the extra care they need.

The doula effect

Research from England and America have suggested that where a doula is present at a birth, the labour is shorter, there is a reduction in the need for medical interventions and mothers were also found to be more responsive to their babies. This is especially reassuring for mothers who have had a poor birth experiences in the past or who have struggled to bond with a baby in the past.

In 1993, a study carried out by Klaus, Klaus & Kennell showed that having doula support during labour and birth:

  • shortened first-time labour by approximately two hours
  • decreased the need for pain medication such as epidurals
  • decreased the chances of having a caesarean section by 50%
  • helped fathers to participate with confidence
  • increased the chances of successful breastfeeding
  • reduced the chances of postnatal depression

While a doula may not be the ideal option for every family, it is obvious that for some women, doulas can make a huge difference to how they experience their pregnancy and birth. “For my next pregnancy, I will definitely be hiring a birth doula,” says Eleanor. “I want to fully enjoy carrying my next baby and having someone around who is just there to care for me emotionally will make me feel far more at ease.”

More about doulas

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Find out about the role of a doulas during childbirth;

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