I often talk about how having a Doula with you in labour can be hugely beneficial. They can help you to relax, cope with the pain and stay calm if things don’t go to plan. I think every woman should have one with them but thought it might be useful for you to hear it from someone other than me! So I asked the lovely Alice, a Doula, to answer some questions about how a Doula can help you if you have birth anxiety.
An interview with a Doula
Can you explain a little about what a Doula is and what they do?
A doula is someone (usually a woman, but not exclusively) who supports a mother and her family throughout pregnancy, birth and the early postnatal period, offering practical and emotional assistance, and listening, empowering and affirming their choices for their birth and first days as a new family.
There are three “types” of doulas; birth doulas work with mums and families during pregnancy, labour and birth and postnatal doulas work with the families in their home after the baby has been born. Antenatal doulas support families throughout pregnancy, up until the birth.
Why do you think there is a growing popularity in having a doula attend your birth?
I think women are starting to see the importance and implications of having a positive birth, both physically and emotionally, and so are investing in ways to make this happen, such as having labour support in the shape of a doula. And I think there’s also concern about the current levels of staffing and midwifery support in hospitals, so families are investing in doulas to help ensure they have the continuous labour support and attendance at the birth that is so important to achieving a positive birth.
What do you think contributes to women feeling anxious about giving birth?
I think a fair amount of anxiety comes from the stories and tales other mums have told of their births, particularly if they’ve had difficult or prolonged labours. I don’t think there is necessarily any ill intent behind these stories, but hearing about the negative experience of others can be very influential in how a mum to be views birth.
And birth isn’t really a topic that many women rave about – or feel they can rave about – because society and popular culture (movies, books, T.V) still typically see it as a private, painful, traumatic, even dangerous event which can’t possibly be enjoyable!
And then there are the negative past experiences of birth that some women have previously had; again, difficult, prolonged or unexpected birth experiences which they may have found upsetting and overwhelming can make second, third etc. time mums believe that this is what they have in store for them in their next birth.
It’s the unknown too which can be anxiety provoking, and the lack of control women will have (to an extent) in their births – no mum knows what it’s like to give birth before they do it and no book or class or birth story can accurately and predictably explain and prepare them for what they will feel or experience. Birth is a bit of a leap of faith, and taking chances and jumping into the unknown always brings up feelings of anxiety and fear for anyone.
How does this anxiety affect women when it comes to their labours?
Typically, mums who are less confident and prepared and who are feeling particularly anxious as they approach their birth will have less of a positive experience than mums who are. The chances of them needing interventions increases (such as an augmentation of their labour) and they’re more likely to have a painful experience and require pain medication. Anxiety during labour also increases a woman’s risk of having a c-section and of having a overall negative experience. Birth isn’t intrinsically “dangerous”, but these all increase the risks to the health and happiness of a mum and baby.
How can hiring a doula help with birth anxiety?
Doulas spend time with the mother during her pregnancy exploring her feelings about the birth, listening to any concerns she may have about it and providing accurate, evidenced based information to ensure she knows the facts about birth so that all the negative myths and rumours she may have heard can be laid to rest. Having that time and space to chat to someone who is knowledgeable about birth can really help reduce anxiety, and exploring ways to reduce the negative feelings that have built up will help mums to feel more prepared and confident as they approach their labour.
During the labour and birth itself, a doula will be a constant companion at the side of the labouring mum, physically and emotionally supporting her in whatever she needs. Having the constant support that a birth doula provides means a mum is much more likely to have a positive experience, need less (if any) pain medication, have fewer interventions and a lower chance of needing an instrumental or caesarean birth.
What advice would you give anyone who is feeling anxious about giving birth?
I would recommend that they spend some time really looking at exactly what their anxieties are and where they come from and being open and honest about how they feel. It’s from that point that they can then start to work towards reducing the anxiety, and in many cases, get rid of it entirely. Speaking to a counsellor, a friend they trust or their midwife can help reduce some of the emotional burden. Meditation and mindfulness tools are also proven to help reduce anxiety levels so I would recommend giving these a go, too.
How would you define a positive birthing experience?
A positive birthing experience means different things to different women, but for me, it’s about being treated with respect and dignity, regardless of birth choices. Being kept informed by medical staff of what’s happening during the labour and what interventions and consents may need to be given. Having a support system in place (birth partner, doula or named midwife for example) and access to any pain relief (if necessary) that’s been requested, and being able to give birth in whatever position feels comfortable and safe.
What would you want women to know about giving birth?
That it can make you feel incredible. Like nothing you’ve ever felt before, or connected so deeply with. And that the power and strength and resilience that you need during labour and childbirth is there inside you. And that it makes you hungry. SUPER hungry. So pack lots of snacks and say yes to the obligatory tea and toast they offer you after you’ve given birth because it’ll be the best tasting toast you’ll ever have!!
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