Here are 5 things that are good to know when working with a doula. These tips will make your experience better, by helping your doula help you more effectively.
#1 Take a childbirth education class…but not just any ‘ol class
Your doula is not a childbirth educator (unless they are dually trained). They have lots of birth knowledge, but it is not their job to lay out all your options. It is helpful to have the education and know your options before your prenatal meetings. This way you can express your preferences in depth to your doula.
However, not all classes are the same. Some classes may be teaching hospital policy and how certain procedures work (more common in hospital offered childbirth classes, but not always).
When signing up for a class here are a few questions to ask:
- Is the information you are teaching us evidence based and up to date?
- Will we be learning how to make informed decisions and informed refusals?
- What forms of pain management will we learn about?
By ensuring they are teaching evidence based information, you are making sure to be receiving the best information to make safe and informed decisions for yourself and your baby.
Asking about informed decision making and informed refusals can tell us if the content of the class contains tools to ask the right questions to get evidence based information. Making an informed decision/refusal means knowing all the pro’s, cons, risks and benefits of a procedure or intervention before you choose to go ahead with it or decline it.
The question about pain management is a sort of catch all question and can tell a lot about the entire content of the class. If drugs are the only type of pain management the course covers, this is a red flag. The class may be more focused on hospital policy. I wold not recommend taking a class like this.
A well rounded class will teach non-drug pain management techniques such as breathing, massage, and positioning, to name a few. It doesn’t matter if you are planning a natural birth or not, it is important to be familiar with non-drug pain management.
When you are educated about birth, this helps your doula too. You will know what options you want or do not want and your doula can advocate for those decisions.
#2 Have a support person, your partner doesn’t count
This may seem silly to be included in an article written by a doula. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a support person at your birth who can support you and your partner. Having a trained doula would be the gold standard.
If there are no trained doulas in your area then choose someone you are very comfortable with, whom you wouldn’t mind seeing you naked. Make sure your partner likes them too.
A common misconception is that a doula replaces your partner as a support person. A doula whom is good at their job will work with your partner, not replace your partner.
This is a topic that you may want to discuss with your doula in prenatal meetings. Let your doula know if your partner wants to be really hands on and take the lead in supporting you. Some partners want suggestions from the doula, or they just want to be an observer and have the doula do most, if not all, of the support.
Please don’t rely on having a nurse present to help you if things get tough. Nurses may be taking care of many other people and have thier own things they need to do. They are not a dedicated support person.
#3 We want the best for you, so please don’t hide any details
When your doula is attending your birth , it is really useful for them to know you and your little quirks. Labor asks a lot of the birthing person, mentally and physically. Your doula is there to make sure you don’t have to worry about anything and can labor in peace.
Having lots of knowledge about you helps your doula to help you better. Tell your doula if you have any fears, even if they seem silly or small to you. Preferences and dislikes when it comes to massage oils, food or drink can come in handy. You may hate having your head touched or your knees, whatever it is, tell your doula!
On a more serious note, childbirth can be triggering for sexual abuse survivors. Things like vaginal exams and even breastfeeding can bring on unwanted feelings. Although it may be hard to disclose, if you are a survivor this is something that your doula should know. Remember that everything you tell your doula is confidential.
#4 Interview more than one of us
Just as you (hopefully) interviewed more than one care provider to find a good fit, interviewing multiple doulas is a good idea too.
You may not realize that you weren’t quite connecting with someone until you meet a doula you connect with right away. A good connection and vibe is essential. You are looking to this person for guidance and trusting in them to help you through, what could be, a life changing experience.
Every person is going to have a different vibe about them too. Some people come off more motherly and some may be more “lets do this!” (my doula was motherly with a sweet, soft voice and it was lovely).
You will be forming a relationship with this person, so choose well. I personally was so touched and cried at all of my doula births (and didn’t even cry when my own daughter was born!). These families form bonds with me and I with them.
#5 A birth plan is a great idea
You may have heard a few things about birth plans. Or maybe not. Some say they are useless, some say “you can’t plan birth”, and others rave about them.
I am definitely in the yes camp when it comes to birth plans. Call it a plan or preference list, it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that it is a clear list of what you want and do not want for your birth experience.
Yes, we cannot plan birth, and even if we try, it sometimes does not go to plan. However with a birth plan, we can clearly list what we would prefer to happen in any given situation.
For example, after you have given vaginal birth to your baby, would you like passive management of your placenta (wait for your body to have contractions and expel it on its own) or would you like active management of your placenta (the care provider will pull on the umbilical cord to get the placenta out)?
Here is an example of a section about delivery of the placenta:
-I would like passive management of my placenta.
-I will wait until my body is ready to expel the placenta.
-If I am bleeding excessively I would like to be informed so I may choose an option for managing the bleeding.
Tip: upon arrival at your place of birth, you or your doula can ask the nurse for a moment of their time to go over your birth plan in detail. You may even want to do this with your care provider at a prenatal appointment. If your care provider works on a rotation and is not going to be attending your birth, request that the care provider on call be made aware of your preferences. You could also ask to speak to them yourself to go over the birth plan directly.
You may not be able to know ahead of time that you might dilate slower than you thought, but you can have your preferences listed in the birth plan if that situation arises. This can also help to prevent unwanted interventions. When you go into your birth informed and with a clear plan for different situations, you are likely to come out feeling like you had a great experience and you made the decisions, not the decisions made for you. This is what I want for every birthing woman!