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How Doulas Support Parents, Before, During and After Childbirth

If you or your partner are expecting a baby, you may want to investigate if the support of a doula is right for your family. Jennifer Woodhead, founder of A Mother’s Perspective Doula Service, LLC, tells us what a doula does and how doulas can assist no matter what your birth plan is. Woodhead is a DONA certified birth doula and certified Gentle Birth instructor. Her team is made up of professionally trained and certified birth and postpartum doulas.

“Doulas offer support to a wide range of clients, whether it be in the hospital setting, an out-of-hospital birth center or midwife-assisted home birth. We have experience in all these settings and tailor our care to fit the specific needs of our clients. Doulas support both medicated and unmedicated births,” Woodhead explains.

Doulas help prepare expectant parents throughout the journey of pregnancy. They schedule several meetings during the pregnancy to educate parents. Woodhead says, “During these meetings, we cover not only a lot of childbirth education but we also explore comfort measures that can be helpful. This includes teaching partners specific ways they can support mom, which gives them valuable ‘tools’ to use and helps them understand the ‘process’ of labor. Having a firm understanding of the process reduces a lot of fear and anxiety, which ultimately reduces pain perception for mom and empowers both mom and partner.”

Doulas do not deliver babies. They provide education and support and help the patients collaborate with their care providers. Woodland says, “This positive collaboration helps our clients become more effective advocates for themselves. As doulas, we do not do anything medical, but we have extensive training that gives us a firm understanding of key medical issues related to pregnancy and birth. Therefore, we can complement the healthcare providers by offering our clients the opportunity to ask questions about anything and help them start productive conversations with their doctors. We feel positive communication and collaboration between patients and their doctors is critical, and as doulas, we do everything we can to facilitate this.”

During labor and delivery, doulas help support the mother with a variety of techniques. Woodland explains, “If you see a doula walking into the hospital headed to Labor & Delivery, you would probably see her wearing a backpack or pulling a suitcase behind her. It’s in this bag that doulas carry their ‘tools of the trade.’ We may have our beloved rebozo, our favorite massage tools, essential oils, flameless candles, a string of Christmas lights, heating pads, honey sticks, affirmation cards, and anything else we can think of to enhance the birthing environment and provide our clients with a wide assortment of comfort measures. We are also carrying our client’s well thought out and carefully formulated birth plan that we fully understand and have made a point to memorize.”

Doulas aren’t just there to help if you have a vaginal delivery. They can even assist if you require a c-section birth. “Sometimes labor can take an unexpected turn and that’s okay. This is why we do so much preparation prior to labor so that parents understand that labor is unpredictable but that doesn’t mean that these changes derail us. Sometimes a cesarean section is medically necessary and the doula is able to transition quickly to modify your birth plan to fit the circumstances. Cesareans can be a beautiful experience too, they don’t negate the beauty and miracle of your baby’s birth. Doulas are there to help you mentally & emotionally process the unexpected,” says Woodhead.

After the birth doulas continue to provide support for the family. “Once the baby is born, the doula is specially trained to help facilitate skin-to-skin contact and help with the first breastfeeding experience. We know how important these first moments are with your new baby and we quietly and respectfully help nurture the bonding process,” Woodhead says.

Once the new family is home from the hospital, doulas continue to do mommy-baby wellness checks. “We visit the family multiple times to ensure that things are going as smoothly as possible. We can help with feeding issues, newborn care questions and maybe most importantly, we listen. It’s so important for new parents to be able to talk about what they are going through. Doulas offer not only a wealth of information, but we also know how to just listen without judgment or criticism,” says Woodhead.

Mothers giving birth during COVID-19 can still receive support from a doula, but it may look different than a traditional doula experience.

Woodhead explains, “Currently all area hospitals are only allowing one support person in Labor & Delivery; which is most likely going to be fathers/partners. Therefore, we have had to make use of Virtual Support. We have found that we are able to offer our clients a high level of support utilizing both Zoom and in-person prenatal visits and we have had success in supporting them during labor using Zoom, text and phone support. Although not ideal, virtual support has proven to be highly beneficial. We work with clients even more thoroughly during their prenatal & postpartum visits fostering an even higher level of self-determination. With the pandemic, so many families are feeling a bit overwhelmed and feel so much is out of control. Working with a doula, helps families take an active role and empowers them through their journey, focusing on what they CAN control.”

How to choose your doula: A Q&A with Mandolin Restivo, Certified Doula, LCCE of Brainy Birth

Where do you work and what is your title?

I own Brainy Birth—a local doula business and am also the Director of Support and Development for Postpartum Support Virginia, a non-profit providing training for maternal and mental health providers on maternal mental health issues, and offering social support for families struggling with maternal mental health issues.

What advice do you have for expectant moms on how to choose a doula?

One of the most important factors is that your doula aligns and supports your vision for your birth. If you are seeking an unmedicated birth at home, a doula who is familiar with home births, as well as home birth transfers if needed, will help you achieve your goal.  If you know you will want to receive an epidural, or if you are open to considering one, a doula who has experience helping birthing people who have received an epidural will enhance your birth experience.

Your doula should also be skilled at coaching partners through how to be an amazing birth partner. As a doula, I want to ensure that the birthing person remembers their partner being a very wonderful support person.  My role is to make sure the partner is set up for success.

The ability to connect with, and to feel comfortable around your doula is extremely important. Birth is a very personal experience and you and your partner should enjoy talking with and spending time with your doula.

Are families able to interview doulas prior to retaining one? What does the process look like for finding and retaining a doula?

Yes, all doulas will provide a consultation/interview. This is a chance to ask questions and see how you connect. After the interview, you can select your doula and then work together to fill out any contracts. Typically doulas require a 50% deposit with the final balance being due by 36 weeks.

Are doula services usually covered by insurance? 

Unfortunately, not. Families that have a flexible spending account can use those funds to cover doula services.

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