The Benefits of Dad’s & Doulas in Birth
Some families are unsure of how a doula would fit into their birth and if professional support is right for their family. This can be difficult to determine, especially if you have never given birth before and there are many questions to ask. Will a doula’s support diminish my wife’s role? Will my partner be involved as much as he/she wants to be? Will the Doula take over? What kind of role is my husband comfortable with anyway? And what about the postpartum transition, do we really need help? Why do others hire a doula? What are the benefits of having a doula’s support? Can it improve the outcome of my birth? Will I feel more positively about the experience?
Labour and birth is extremely hard work, it is gritty and primal and incredibly emotional. Regardless of what your birth story looks like, both a partner and a doula can contribute much to the experience.
What the Husband or Partner Brings to the Birthing Room
Many of us have heard stories from our fathers or grandfathers about the birth of their children that sound very different than the ones dads are telling today. Many fathers were not present in the birthing room and their experience might not include much more than a nurse waving her arm from down the hall and shouting “it’s a girl Jim and she has red hair”! Today’s dads are active participants and how wonderful is that!
The people that birth today are not just women, and the partner’s that accompany them into labour-land are not just dad’s either. They are wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, friends, mothers or other family members too. However a birthing family defines themselves, the greatest part of it all is that the lovely laboring one is accompanied and is not alone. There is someone there who loves her deeply.
Some partners have had experience in birth but most are unsure and often intimidated and to be honest, many people accompanying a woman into birth just do not know what their role should be and understandably so. There can be a quite a number of people in the room and sometimes it is hard to determine who is in there for what reason and where one should even stand. We are somewhat of a compliant culture, never wanting to rock the boat or step on anyone’s toes, especially to those we perceive to have more information about what is going on than we do. Importantly as well, the last thing in the world a husband or partner would want to do is to say or do anything that might be seen to ‘take the mother’s voice away’ or to speak for her. All in all it can be overwhelming for one to find their way.
I believe that most husbands & partners want to have a role that feels natural and authentic and one that they feel they can fully commit to. I find this role if left to manifest on its own with loving couples is rarely one of ‘coach’ or ‘birth support’ but rather one of ‘loving husband’ or ‘loving wife’. They naturally gravitate to treating them the same way they do any other day. Encouraging, uplifting, nurturing and protecting. Even if the relationship between the birthing woman and her companion in the birthing room is not one that would translate to life-long, unconditional or affectionate or if the husband or partner has a shy or softer temperament there is still much to be said for the partner finding a role that feels right. Could it be one of doing? Ensuring the mother eats, drinks and urinates, making sure her birth plan is heard or just never leaving her side? Could it be one of encouragement? Affirming what she is going through and that she knows what to do?
Not every father or partner will play the same role but if they can be themselves and follow the instincts that they have about what is happening in a birthing room and with the mother, he/she becomes the perfect birth partner. If they can find a way, in their own way to do or say the things the mother cannot for herself when she’s deep in labour-land, they have done what they needed to. Whatever it looks like, a firm but kind advocate, protector, the one who directs the traffic, asks the right questions and make sure she has everything she needs, they are giving the mother the opportunity to truly just do what she needs to do to birth the baby and not have to worry about anything else. That is amazing. A woman needs to feel safe in order to go there to that place.
Sometimes these roles fall into place without anyone having to say a word and other times a conversation beforehand needs to take place but either way that reassurance can allow the husband or partner to embrace the role fully.
In embracing that role the father or partner can benefit greatly from having someone else on their team to bounce ideas or thoughts off of if they feel unsure, someone who they can turn to and ask questions or seek suggestions from and someone who has been there and done this before. Even if it’s just a simple reminder to offer water between contractions or something more nerve wracking like knowing what questions to ask and when, a family doula can prove to be invaluable.
The Benefits of Having a Family Doula
According to DONA International, a doula is a professional who is trained in childbirth and provides continuous support to a mother before, during and just after birth. Postpartum doula’s also offer extended support for the postpartum period. Doula comes from the Greek word that means ‘a woman who serves’, and serve they do! The benefits of a doula attended birth and postpartum period are many;
She is there for the birthing woman and her family only.
A doula’s scope of practice is limited to emotional, physical and informational support and this allows her to focus on mothering the mother (and her partner) instead of the clinical tasks and paperwork that doctors, midwives and nurses are responsible for. She works for the mother and her partner and is not a staff member of the hospital or midwifery clinic. A doula’s only focus is the comfort, reassurance and support of the mother and her partner, promoting a positive birthing experience as the family defines it and she does not bring her own agenda. She listens to any fears, hopes, nervousness and excitement the family has and helps to build their knowledge around birth and postpartum and to develop confidence and trust in themselves. She works to build positive relationships with hospital staff and midwives and is there to help advocate for the family. She will not speak for or make decisions for a mother and her partner but she is there to promote the individual needs and vision of the mother.
She is a partner for women without one.
Families hire doulas for many reasons. A mother without a partner may hire a doula to be her primary support and another mother may have a painful past and knows the extra support can make a world of difference in her birth. The continuous, consistent emotional, physical and informational support is beneficial to all mothers regardless of their situation.
Her goal is to help a mother and her family have as positive a birth experience as possible.
A positive birth experience can mean something different to every birthing woman and there is no right or wrong way to birth, however some women describe their birth experiences as traumatic. Perhaps they felt unheard, disrespected, forced into certain decisions or rushed into them. There are many dynamics to this and a doula can play a part in supporting women and their families to advocate for themselves to achieve the kind of birth they desire and lessening the chance of birth trauma.
The research is also in support of doulas. A 2011 clinical study published in The Cochrane Library studied 15,061 women and the effects of doula support. That study found that women who had a Birth Doula were; less likely to have a caesarean section, less likely to use Pitocin to speed labour, less likely to use pain medication and less likely to rate their childbirth experience negatively.
Research also shows that parents who receive Postpartum Doula support; feel more secure and cared for, are more successful in adapting to new family dynamics, have greater success with breastfeeding, have greater self-confidence, have less postpartum depression and have lower incidence of abuse.
Her knowledge and experience in the physiology of birth, comfort measures and relaxation techniques as well as her optimism, encouragement and reassurance go a long way to support a family and help them feel respected and safe and also in helping a woman’s birth progress effectively.
She knows birth.
A doula knows the ins and outs of birth. She has seen it before and has been there before. She is familiar with the medical system and processes and all of the typical behaviours expected from mothers and babies. She can likely tell just from the sounds the mother is making where her labour has progressed to and knows all the available tools and tricks to help the mother labour effectively and lessen her pain.
A doula comes very prepared. Many women labour and birth on their own accord, experiencing it for what it is and require little more from a doula than affirmation and positive presence and other women prefer a doula’s support to be very hands on. Every family is different and so deep down in her Mary Poppins-like carpet bag the doula has everything from a TENS machine, straps to pull on when pushing and a peanut ball to breath mints, toothbrushes and hair elastics.
She can mean less difficult decisions.
If interventions become medically necessary, a doula can help support the mother emotionally so she can have a more positive experience despite the changes to her birth plan. A doula is also extremely valuable if a trip to the NICU becomes necessary as the parents no longer have to face a situation where the partner goes with the baby to the NICU and the mother stays alone. The doula is there with her to support her while the partner is with the baby.
She is energy in the room
The presence of a doula will reduce your stress. She is a positive, encouraging and uplifting person who can contribute greatly to the ‘feel’ in the room. She often brings chocolate and treats for the hospital staff (which makes them very happy) and her presence can also relieve a great deal of pressure from the partner if he/she finds themselves in a situation where they are just not sure. Is this normal? Should I be worried?
Her support is practical.
A doula’s support will meet the families needs as they define them. Does a mother request continual massage or touch, reassurance and affirmation or does she want the doula to sit in the corner just in case? Whatever it looks like is great.
If nothing else, she is an extra set of hands (but she really is much more). She promotes physical support with ideas for comfort and labour progression. She is emotional support helping to create an environment where the hormones of labour can work and she supports the partner in being a rock star companion. Whether medicated or un-medicated, every family can benefit from extra nurturing and connection in this special time.
She provides practical support through promoting self-care, meals, drinks, warm socks, bathroom breaks and much more.
She helps parents feel confident and comfortable in caring for their newborn.
A doula can ensure parents get enough sleep, eat healthy and take the time they need to recover by tackling many of the little day-to-day things that get in the way of recovery and breastfeeding success. She can also assist with getting off to a good start with breastfeeding and much more.
She is an incredible resource.
Even in pregnancy she can help an expecting mom rifle through conflicting advice and figure out what’s best for her family. Doula’s have a long list of community resources and their ‘go-to’ professionals for every hiccup that can come a new parent’s way. Lactation consultants, chiropractors, childbirth educators, support groups, childcare providers and much more.
Doulas are so effective because they function as both a form of pain relief and a major buffer. The continuous support they provide and the calm environment they work to create both contribute significantly to a mother’s ability to cope. The specific role a doula plays in one family’s birth will never be the same as the next but the benefit will always be.
How do Partner’s and Family Doula’s Work Together?
A doula provides the husband or partner with the opportunity to focus more on his loved one and less on the details. She is holding the space so the husband or partner can be there for the mother. The doula’s role is important but it is not about her. The doula’s knowledge and training are available to the husband or partner, as are suggestions, referrals and examples that allow them to be their authentic selves and build their confidence as well. They can work together to create a calm, peaceful environment.
A doula’s goal is for the mother and her husband or partner to remember how connected they were and for herself to fade into the background. She wants to help them shine. The partner knows the mother and the doula knows birth, so together it’s really a dream team.
Has a birth or postpartum doula supported you in childbirth and/or the first weeks of parenthood? Would you recommend working with a doula to other families? Share with us!