I’m so excited to be featuring guest experts from various industries on my blog in the coming months. This month, I welcome Mikaela Engarde, certified birth and postpartum doula, to talk about what a doula does. Are you wondering if you should hire a doula for your own birth? This post is meant to be helpful when it comes to making that decision.
Mikaela has been serving the greater Philadelphia area for 7 years. She has a passion for supporting her clients through their pregnancies and leading them towards an empowering birth experience and postpartum period. Mikaela has experience with (but not limited to): homebirth, Hypnobirthing, VBAC (and HBAC), unmedicated hospital birth, birth with an epidural, induction, twin birth, breech birth, planned cesarean and gentle cesarean.
You’re pregnant! Congratulations! The excitement and joy that comes with new life is such a special time. The question of whether or not to hire a doula is one that will pop into some minds. Furthermore, what it even means to hire a doula is something many wonder.
From the moment we see those two pink lines, we plan.
We make lists.
We have questions.
And maybe even have some fears.
“Is it a girl or a boy?”
“Will we co-sleep?”
“Breastfeed or bottle feed?”
“Who should I choose to be my provider?”
“Is this normal?”
“Where will I deliver?”
“HOW will I deliver?”
“What is a birth plan?”
“What is MY birth plan?”
When it comes to the actual birth of your baby, planning the type of birth experience you are hoping for is one of the most important things you can do to prepare during your pregnancy.
Studies have shown that when a mother perceives her birth experience as positive, she is less likely to struggle with postpartum mood disorders and have a stronger maternal bond with her baby. These things encourage better breastfeeding outcomes.
On the flip side, a mother who has a negative or even traumatic birth experience has a higher risk of struggling with postpartum anxiety and/or depression, maternal bonding. Subsequently issues with breastfeeding and ultimately supply tend to arise.
The benefits of a positive birth experience are lifelong. Additionally, so are the side effects of a traumatic or negative birth experience.
The heart and soul of what doulas do is inform their clients on all of their options. The intention of this is to make sure they are an active participant in their pregnancy and birth. Doulas then support their clients in whatever choices they decide to make.
Doulas spend the duration of their clients’ pregnancies equipping them with the tools and knowledge they need to ask the necessary questions.
Is this what I want?
Is this necessary?
What are the risks?
What are the benefits?
Are there alternatives?
Can we wait?
Providing unbiased yet evidence-based educational and informational support to clients who hire a doula empowers them to make the necessary decisions. These decisions will lead them to the type of birth they’re hoping for, whatever that may look like.
During pregnancy, doulas are a constantly available resource to their clients. Whether it’s to check-in and announce a gender reveal, or to plan on how to proceed if their GBS test comes back positive (which is way more common than you may think but that’s another story!).
Doulas will connect with their clients throughout pregnancy and may even meet in person for a prenatal visit. These meetings are a time to go over fears and concerns pertaining to the impending birth and how to overcome them. They are also to review the birth process and how to manage contractions with position changes and comfort measures.
When labor begins, doulas are often in constant contact until it’s time for them to join you. During labor, their goal is to offer emotional and physical comfort, help facilitate a smooth progression of labor, utilize specific techniques if a labor pattern needs some assistance, and ensure their client has the information and support to advocate for themselves, their desires, and wishes. In hospital births, communicating effectively with the hospital staff is also another large part of their support.
Once the baby is born, many doulas will remain with their clients for a short time to support the family immediately postpartum. This may look like: taking photos, breathing and coping through repairs if necessary, hydrating mom or helping secure a nourishing meal, and assisting in the first latch with baby.
Doulas who are providing postpartum services will often come to the home and check in with the family to see how everyone is adjusting within a week or so after birth. During this time, they can: process the birth experience together, go over postpartum physical and mental healing questions, check the baby’s latch, troubleshoot any minor feeding issues, discuss basics of baby care and sleep and give resources and referrals if needed.
It’s important to keep in mind that though doula support greatly affects the overall perception and satisfaction of your birth experience, doulas do not guarantee birth outcomes. Sometimes, we have to make detours in the journey.
Issues may arise, changes may happen and the role of a doula is to help navigate those twists and turns with compassion, emotional support, and critical decision making. In doing so, doulas and clients move through the journey of pregnancy and birth together. Clients are empowered that they are ultimately in charge of their birth.
I may be biased, but everyone should have a doula. Doula support is an essential role in ensuring you have the most positive and beautiful birth possible. Whether you’re planning a quiet home birth, a VBAC in the hospital or planning a cesarean, the experience, wisdom, and support a doula provides sets you and your baby up for success from the womb.
Rachel Gregory is a Philadelphia area, newborn photographer. Contact Rachel for information on maternity and newborn photo sessions.