When it comes to health and wellness, knowing your options tends to make any experience less daunting. This is certainly the case with pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
We recently spoke with the owner of Modern Birth Co Tara Bruley—a fertility, birth, and postpartum doula from Toronto. She answered some common questions surrounding the doula practice and its benefits. Here’s what we learned:
So, what exactly is a doula?
As Tara tells us, doulas provide emotional, physical and informational support during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
“Doulas are trained in birth and the physiology of birth, so we know how to keep labour going, and we can provide comfort measures and breathing techniques to help you through your contractions,” she says.
Doulas are there to listen, to encourage, to remind you of your strength, and to give all the necessary information you need to make the best decisions for your situation. Tara aptly describes her role as something like a “better, more reliable, and less scary Google''. This includes helping you come up with a flexible birth plan that leaves room for the unexpected.
Essentially, doulas help you prepare for the marathon of birth. “We’re basically a birth BFF,” Tara says.
Are doulas like midwives?
Midwives and doulas often come up in conversation with one another, but they exist in different, complementary roles. As Tara tells us, midwives are medical professionals who take care of the health and safety of you and your baby during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. They check the baby’s heart rate, monitor your blood pressure, do cervical exams, and physically deliver the baby.
“Anything medical, that’s your midwife’s jam…,” Tara says. “The role of the doula is entirely non-medical, there solely for the comfort and emotional support of the person in labor.”
Do doulas only assist in home births?
While doulas are sometimes associated with home births, many doulas, including Tara, attend births at home or in hospitals.
Tara understands that it’s important for people to decide their birth location and the environment where they’re most comfortable. “For some people that’s at home, but for a lot of people, that’s the hospital,” she says.
How do doulas fit in with partners?
Being a doula is an emotionally supportive role, but it doesn’t infringe upon the role of the partner. Instead, the partner and the doula work together. As Tara says, “a doula is an expert on birth, but your partner is an expert on you.”
In fact, doulas are there to support partners as well. Because it’s an overwhelming experience for many, it can be a lot of work for partners to provide all the emotional and physical support necessary.
Because of this, Tara thinks of the doula and the partner as a team, with the doula helping the partner in their supportive role, whether that’s performing something like hip squeezes, or any other physical comfort measure.
Doulas will check in with partners and make sure they have bathroom breaks, grab something to eat, and take a walk.
“We form great relationships with the partners as well. It really becomes like a tag team,” Tara says.
What’s the science behind the doula practice?
The benefits of having a doula are more than anecdotal—they are solidly backed by scientific evidence.
As Tara says, this means that labour with a doula is, on average, 25% faster, and there’s a 50% decrease in the need for cesarean sections. While epidurals are an entirely personal decision, having a doula decreases the need for pain medication. On top of that, when a doula is involved in birth, Pitocin (a synthetic form of the hormone Oxytocin which induces labour), is not needed as often. This also decreases cesarean rates.
The presence of a doula is also scientifically shown to help after birth, both with breastfeeding and postpartum mood disorders.
What’s the training process like?
Doulas aren’t regulated in Canada, so there are various companies that offer doula training. In general, Tara says the classes teach the physiological aspect of birth, birth interventions, pain management techniques, how to navigate the hospital system, how to advocate for infant care, and much, much more.
Who should consider having a doula?
Because there’s so many benefits to having a doula, they’re really appropriate in all situations, especially if you are someone who thrives with having all the information at hand.
Also, if you are prone to anxious thoughts, a doula can be particularly supportive in addressing some of those concerns and anxieties.
Unlike nurses and OB-GYNs, who pop in and out during labour, doulas are there through it all. They’re a constant. The medical staff isn’t typically there for emotional support from start to finish. That’s where a doula can come in and fill or augment that role.
What questions should one ask a doula before hiring them?
Doulas can play a pivotal role in your birthing journey, so getting on the same page is an important part of the process. Tara lists the following questions as examples of what to ask when interviewing a doula:
- What is your approach with partners?
- How do you feel about interventions?
- What is your on-call schedule like?
- Are there extra fees if the labour goes over a specific number of hours?
But mostly you should lead with your heart when it comes to choosing a doula, Tara adds.
“If you don’t feel a connection with that person, then that’s not the doula for you,” she says.
It has a lot to do with vibes, with the person’s sense of humour, and with being comfortable sharing intimate parts of your experience with the doula. “Listen to your gut. You need to feel safe with this person,” Tara says.
Knowing your options and understanding the myths and realities around these options is such an important part of any health journey. Including a doula in your birth plan can have a real positive impact on the overall experience of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
Whether you choose to give birth at home or in a hospital, with pain management or without, a doula can make the experience less challenging, and can help you feel more confident and empowered throughout the process.