October 21, 2017 October 21, 2017

How a Doula Can Help Support Partners and Families

The arrival of a baby, this new little person, has effects that reach through families, friendships, and communities. A doula can help the entire family by honoring the presence of this new life in the context of all these relationships. No matter who is invited to attend the birth, she respects the mother as the one who's physical and emotional state is vital to the birth of the child, without neglecting the persons who are so intrinsically connected to the woman in labor and the child who is being born.

During pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting a mother and her partner are both experiencing a major transformation, and although a woman's partner is not giving birth with her physically, he or she is very much involved in the act of giving birth. The moment a couple's baby comes into the world is a moment that changes both of their lives forever.

A woman in childbirth requires a sense of security for the process of childbirth to progress, but the partner also requires that same sense of security. If the partner is uneasy, the mother is likely to pick up on these feelings and feel similarly. Pam England, a midwife and childbirth educator, wrote in Birthing From Within, "For parents, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is a time of continuous learning and adjustment; holistic support and education should be available throughout that period (1998)." It is not just the mother that she serves, but also her partner. A doula sees the two as an intertwined entity in birth.

Doulas can act as a source of strength, experience, and information, bringing with them many tricks for physical and emotional support. Ideally, the partner will join the mother in the prenatal visits with the doula and also learn the techniques and information that she gives the mother. In birth, a partner can play whatever role feels best to her or him, and a doula can assist you in actualizing that role-- whether it is to be right next to the mother, helping her with comfort measures and holding her hand, or some other role. They can offer suggestions of ways to be as active as he or she wants to be in the birth, and can offer to trade off when you may need a break to eat or sleep and regain strength.

The role of a doula at your birth can look many different ways depending on the support that you have not only from your partner, but from your family also. Having family and partner support is amazing, and different from the support of a doula. It is actually helpful that the doula is not a family member, as she can serve as a somewhat objective support person. Because doulas get to know and understand the mother before she begins labor, she can also serve in birth by helping family members to respect the needs and wishes of the mother in childbirth.

We all love our families, but on occasion, disagreements about the way to go about things, especially in the midst of labor, can stir a number of emotions in the mother. Doulas often walk a fine line of advocacy for the mother in trying to help see the mother's wishes through while honoring the expressed thoughts of the family and friends who are present. Just as the mother should discuss any and all desires to her midwife or doctor, nurses, and doula, she should also make sure to go through her birth plan with any other family who will be joining her during the labor. Most doulas would also welcome any of these persons to the last prenatal visit, or in a separate visit so that she may discuss any questions, hopes, and fears they may have regarding the birth and/or her role.

When everyone involved with the birth--the care provider, nursing staff, doula, family, friends, and partner--are all on the same page with what the mother wants, it is more likely that everyone involved is prepared and comfortable with how things will progress. It is important for a doula to adjust her involvement according to this plan, remaining active in her assistance, regardless of unforeseen changes made along the way.

If birthing in a hospital, doulas can use their knowledge of, and experience with hospital procedures to help the mother make informed decisions, and can act as a bridge between the mothers wishes and the hospital staff. They can sometimes help by reminding staff that the mother has chosen to experience this birth unmedicated and would like not to be asked about receiving any medication, but instead seek it out if that's what she truly wants. Women who are given the time to discuss this, and any other, possibility with their partners and family often feel empowered from making the decision on their own, without feeling overly influenced by others or rushed into making decisions. Fear and confusion can be catalysts for choices that feel rushed, but through conversations and ample preparation in the prenatal period, doulas can help families make informed decisions that feel right for them so they feel empowered and confident that they are making the best choices for them and baby.

If you have other children that will be present at the birth, a doula can serve by making sure that the needs of your child are also met. Some doulas offer this as part of their services in addition to their other comitments to the family, or as a separate paid package. It's a wonderful experience for many children to be present at the first moments of their new sibling's life. In many cultures around the world, it is still customary for young girls to go with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and other female family members and neighbors to help in the event of childbirth. They learn at a young age that mothers need a lot of support in labor and in the early postpartum period. As young as 3 years-old they are helping to cook and clean so the mother can enjoy the 40 day "lying-in time". Families should consider inviting their children (boys and girls) to the birth of their newest siblings, as long as they prepare them for the incredible event they will be witness to. Being present to this incredible even not only helps to facilitate bonding between siblings, but is a major step in promoting the "normalness" of birth that has been lost in our society.

Regardless of who is present at your birth, doulas can be an important part of your birth team, adjusting accordingly so as not to replace others, but rather to enhance the interactions of all those involved and the overall birthing experience.