If you’ve been researching doulas and what they can offer during childbirth, you’ve probably read something like the following on a thousand websites:
“Doulas offer resources and education during prenatal and postpartum visits, provide emotional and physical support as comfort measures during birth,and advocate for your birth choices”
But what does a doula do during the actual birth process? What does doula support really look like on the big day (or days) of birthing?
I’ve been lucky as a Vancouver birth doula to work with multiple birth photographers who’ve captured some great moments of what a doula looks like in action. Pictures are worth a thousand words…
A doula will help you track your birthing sensations and help you decide when to call your midwife or head to the hospital:
… when you’re in the birth process, it can be really helpful to just do your thing and not get caught up in clock-watching. A watched-pot and all that. Whether you are having a home birth or a hospital birth, a doula can support you before your midwife arrives or before you go to the hospital by helping you be as comfortable as possible, reassuring you that everything is normal, and helping you keep an eye on the pattern of sensations so you can focus on birthing!
A doula will get your birthing pool set up
(if you’re having a home water-birth):
…if you are planning a home water birth, a birth pool is an amazing thing to have on hand. Birth Takes a Village clients get use of my birth pool for free with select doula packages. Some other Vancouver doulas also have their own pools for you to use or rent for your birth.
A doula will help you get settled in at the hospital
(if you are having a hospital birth):
…if you are having a hospital birth, a doula can help you on the move from home to hospital. It is ideal to stay home for as long as possible, and a doula can make this easier to accomplish by helping you feel more comfortable and supported at home, supporting you in the car ride, and making sure you know where to go and what to do upon arriving at the hospital.
A doula will work with your partner to help you get comfortable:
…doulas and dads make really good teams. I gave the mom in the above photo the hip-squeeze during every sensation (for at least 10 hours!), while dad provided lots of love and a sense of familiar safety. We took turns refilling her water glass and getting her cool cloths. Dads and doulas are usually very good friends by the end of a birth… he will text or call during early birthing to keep your doula posted and get tips for how to best support you, and they will work together to help you feel relaxed and comfortable.
A doula will wipe your brow & remind you to breathe
(Birth Takes a Village’s Aquaborn Birth Pool in action at a home birth):
…often the things clients appreciate the most about doula support are the little things. A cool cloth appearing on your forehead at just the right moment. A calm smile and someone who will simply breathe with you. Passing your partner a glass of water to hold up to your lips between sensations. Sitting with a lot of women during birth allows your doula to pick up on what you want without you needing to come out of “labour-land” to ask for it, often before you even realize you want it.
She’ll squeeze your hips (trust me, it feels GOOD!):
… I keep talking about the hip-squeeze. Birthing women REALLY seem to like it. Your doula can also show your partner how to do it, both so he can take credit for giving you some awesome comfort, and so her biceps get a break (it’s harder to sustain than it looks!)
She’ll help your partner feel confident:
…feeling at ease in the birth room is often much easier for dads if there is a doula present. In a much earlier post, I talk about men and birth and how their feeling confident and trusting of the birth process is key to their providing positive support to a birthing mom.
Sometimes, your doula may even let your membranes release on her
(although we try to avoid that… sometimes you just end up in the most unexpected positions!):
…check out dad applying the counterpressure I taught him to do on mom’s back! She seems to be enjoying it!
A doula will watch Frasier with you between sensations when you’re in very active birthing
(Okay, this isn’t common at EVERY birth, but I swear, it really happened once):
…I don’t have a doulas-are-awesome sales pitch for this one. But it was one of my most memorable doula moments, and a lot of fun between rounds of giving the infamous hip-squeeze and back massages together with this client’s partner. So calm you can watch a sitcom… that’s Hypnobabies for ya! I am SO happy Jackie Dives, who often attends births with me as a photographer, was there to catch this shot (and so are the parents!).
And she’ll snap mediocre photos so your partner can enjoy the moment
(if you haven’t also hired a professional birth photographer to get those really yummy shots!):
…if you like, your doula will do her best to take a photo or two. As you can see from the above photos, our hands and bodies are often tied up and out of commission for photo taking during the birth process. And although we can capture amazing moments like this one, the quality clearly doesn’t compare to the photos from the professional birth photographers!
Your doula will tidy up post-home-birth…
(you’ll never know you birthed in your living room if you have a home birth. We can even whisk away your placenta and encapsulate it if you like):
…after a home birth, I usually try to toss in a load of laundry (birth takes a lot of towels!), load the dishwasher, and just do a general tidy-up so you and your partner can focus on your new baby. Most doulas will disassemble the birth pool if you were using one.
A doula supports you with words of encouragement (and her arms and shoulders):
…sometimes, all you need is someone to whisper “just like that”, “the sensations are only as strong as you are”, or guide you through relaxing your body between sensations. Other times, what you’ll want is someone to support your leg or a shoulder to prop your foot up on. Sometimes, you want all three at once while dad holds your hand.
She’ll guide you through your first round of breastfeeding:
… the first moments of breastfeeding are bonding time for you and baby. A little nuzzle at your breast gets your baby a few drops of colostrum and stimulates oxytocin and milk production. Your doula can help you feel confident and comfortable as you play with breastfeeding for the first time.
She will share in your emotion:
…there is simply nothing like a good hug when you need one!
… And she’ll step back while you enjoy some really precious moments:
I feel so lucky to have been part of the births in these photographs providing doula support to Vancouver families. And luckier still to have worked with professional Vancouver birth photographer Morag Hastings (from Apple Blossom Families), as well as Jackie Dives and Megan Taylor who captured the spectacular photos of myself and my doula clients above!
In addition to what is captured here, doulas do a lot of behind-the-scenes work, like making sure everyone is fed and hydrated, giving the father or partner a well-deserved rest periodically, getting medical staff copies of your birth plan and reminding staff of your priorities.
If circumstances change during the birth and new options are presented to you, your doula will help you ask important informed consent questions to make sure you feel like you understand your choices and can make informed decisions.
What’s the moral of the story?
Get a doula. Add a birth photographer. Have a gentle and informed birth, and remember it with photos you will always treasure.
Explore further details about my doula services, or call 604-700-4115 to set up a free initial interview. Make sure to ask about adding a birth photographer to your team, as well!
If you’re interested in becoming a doula yourself, check out our Wise Woman Way of Birth doula training program.