Don’t just call the midwife... How doulas are becoming more popular for St Albans mothers-to-be
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For World Doula Week (March 22-28), Caroline Thain spoke to a St Albans doula to find out – what does a doula do?
You might have heard of the word, as they are becoming more common as a means of birth support, as well as - or instead of - a regular birth partner.
Julia Flynn, who lives in Marshalswick, St Albans, became a doula after she realized she loved caring when she stepped to the aid of a neighbour. The mum-of-three is now a self-employed doula providing support to women in pregnancy, labour and afterwards.
She said: “I am passionate about birth and early baby days and privileged to be part of life-changing journeys with local women. Many women are keen to keep their births as natural as possible and turn to hypnobirthing and doulas to support their wishes.
“Having a female who is older around gives much needed reassurance at a time when women are vulnerable. Unfortunately we no longer live in a time where we have an aunt or mother a couple of streets away.”
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Growing dissatisfaction with antenatal care and overstretched maternity units with impossibly busy midwives is resulting in women feeling they need to pay for a doula, so they can have the emotional and practical support they need. While preparing for birth and when the baby is a newborn, a doula can be invaluable in helping life run more smoothly at what can be an incredibly stressful time.
Julia, 46, who is also a certified Mindful Mamma hypnobirthing practitioner and runs the Positive Birth Movement group in St Albans, said: “Parents these days can feel overwhelmed by differing advice. Doulas support the whole family to have a positive experience of pregnancy, birth and early weeks.
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“Some of the mothers I have worked with say I am like a friend, neighbour or mother. We support families with decisions they make and the way they would like to birth or parent. We do our best to protect their birthing or early baby ‘bubble’.
“The doula’s most important role is nurturing, continuous support and reassurance. As the health service comes under increasing pressure women can be nervous about continuity of care and midwives being increasingly busy.”
However, it is a totally different job to that of a midwife, which Julia is keen to point out. She explained how she looks at the mum to see how she is on a physical and emotional level – maybe she needs a cold flannel, massage, music playing, the lights off, sleep, changing positions or positive messages…
Doulas are there for partners too; helping them support their loved one, guiding them in what the mum might need and how they can help and reassuring dads everything is okay.
Julia, who had previous roles in marketing, teaching and childminding, said: “Birth is unpredictable and we can’t know what’s ahead of us, just that we will be there unconditionally. While doulas are not there to change outcomes, there is growing evidence having a doula brings tangible benefits.
“From reducing intervention rates to shortening labour and improving babies’ conditions at birth… While this research is important, it’s the less tangible benefits of having a non-judgemental companion during a life-altering event that most women remember and value.”
It doesn’t stop at the birth, with many doulas offering practical and emotional help from breastfeeding to shopping, helping mum rest or bathe or undertaking light domestic chores. Julia suggests that in the early days women would ideally just relax with their babies, feeding, which aids bonding and breastfeeding. But she recognizes this is not often possible.
She added: “Life so fast. People expect things now - an immediate response. In the early days with a baby, I always say to new mums ‘Pyjamas are your friend!’. This is the one time where you can allow yourself to lie with your babies, rest, eat and drink. We definitely need to follow our Chinese friends who have a month of confinement to restore health. Realistically this isn’t always possible so the best thing is to ensure you get as much rest as possible and eat and drink water.”
Anyone thinking of become a doula can find out more from Doula UK. A Doula UK recognized birth doula with a fairly typical support package charges between £600 and £2,000. A mentored birth doula (less experienced) charges £200-£450. Postnatal doulas charge hourly rates. Where cost is prohibitive, some women may be able to access a fund to cover the fee.
Craig Cartier and his wife Magda, from Charmouth Court, St Albans, were very happy to use Julia as their doula during the birth of their son Leon, who turned one this month.
He said: “Hiring Julia as our birth doula was some of the best money we spent in our pregnancy journey and I can’t recommend Julia and doula-ing in general highly enough.
“We were first interested in a doula, as we had read the impressive statistics showing the likelihood of positive birth outcomes with doula support. But our actual experience really showed the value of a doula.”
The couple ended up with an unplanned home birth when little Leon turned up faster than they could make it to hospital, so emergency paramedics and midwives were called and raced to the scene.
Craig added: “While I was coordinating with midwives, hospital and paramedics, Julia was supporting my partner the whole way through contractions. They had built strong trust ahead of the birth, which helped us manage an otherwise stressful situation. Despite a potentially disastrous set of circumstances, we had a successful home birth, a happy baby and mom and a great story.
“There is absolutely no way the outcome would have been as positive without Julia. As often happens in birth, things didn’t go to plan and it makes me so glad we had Julia at our side.”