Labour and birth take your mind and body to places it’s never seen before. Although an immensely rewarding experience, it can also be scary and overwhelming at times.
Throughout the ages labouring women have been supported by other females, quite often including their own Mama, Sisters, Aunties and local Midwife. Today, many women are fortunate to have their partner by their side as well as substitute the ‘traditional’ female support by hired professionals such as Doulas or Midwives.
If you are considering hiring a professional, take the time to fully explore all your options, understand the differences and find one that fits your individual needs.
Doula, Midwife, what’s the difference?
A Doula is a professional birth assistant who provides physical as well as emotional support before, during and after labour and delivery. Doulas help women in a non-medical capacity and they cannot attend a birth on their own. During birth, they are by a woman’s side offering non-medical advice concerning natural coping strategies including breathing, massage and movement as well as advocating on behalf of the Mama. Before and after birth they often help the new Mama make decisions preparing for their birth and offer advice on infant care when they get home. However, a Doula cannot be a substitute for a Doctor as they do not have the same in-depth medical training.
A Midwife also provides support before during and after labour and birth, however, they are qualified to help a pregnant woman in the actual delivery of her baby and neonatal care. Qualified Midwives can provide prenatal care, perform internal examinations, administer pain medications and labour inducing drugs, monitor the fetus, give epidural top-ups and perform episiotomy and stitch tears- much the same duties as a Doctor and are qualified to be a substitute for one.
A Midwife can also offer guidance and support much like a Doula, but most likely won’t have the availability to offer the constant physical support a Doula would. However, it is possible if you hire a private Midwife to specifically be with you throughout your labour and birth. Both have their benefits, it all depends on your individual needs and preferences.
So why do I need one?
You may be thinking ‘I have my Doctor and my partner, why do I need a Midwife or Doula?’ and it is a good question. I’m a firm believer on the tremendous positive impact that the right support person can have on your labour and birth. See blog post Are All Men Meant For Labour. It’s not always who you would think- just because you and your partner love each other and make a fantastic team in life, doesn’t necessarily mean they are well suited to support you through labour and birth. The purpose of having a partner support you in labour is to help you remain calm, relaxed and reassured, not the opposite as that could actually slow down and impede the process. It’s a principle that I’ve witnessed in my own practice and is backed by evidence-based research. Studies show that in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support is associated with improved outcomes for labour. The benefits include:
- Shortened labour
- Decreased need for analgesia
- Fewer operative deliveries
- Higher reports of satisfaction with labour experiences
- Less instance of c-section
- Less instance of low 5 minute Apgar score
Stress is the number one enemy of labour and it can come from many sources. Feeling calm, supported, and relaxed is necessary in order to produce oxytocin, the hormone that triggers your labour and keeps it going. If you are anxious or stressed it is going to make things all that much more difficult. Having a Doula or Private Midwife to advocate and support you can help alleviate many concerns and help you relax.
In my practice, many of my clients are living abroad and away from their family and natural support network. Having someone professional they can rely on during labour, birth and after, besides their partner, can turn a daunting and overwhelming experience into a much calmer and positive one.
By developing a close, personal relationship other than merely a physical one, they can offer a lot of emotional support, medical support in the case of a Midwife, local advice and peace of mind to a Mama who may otherwise feel very alone.
Even if you are giving birth in a location that is familiar to you, something else to consider is that the majority of staff surrounding you are going to be people you most likely haven’t met before. Having your Private Midwife or Doula will ensure that you have a familiar face supporting you, reassuring you, and making sure that you’re ok. The Midwife can also offer the medical support you and your baby require post-birth. They are qualified to provide antenatal check-ups, antenatal and baby care classes and postnatal care. Since many questions and concerns arise after you have your baby it is a huge benefit to have the advice and guidance of someone you know and trust. And trust me you will have a few questions!
What should I look for when choosing a Midwife or Doula?
Once you’ve made the decision to have a Midwife or a Doula, or both, the most important thing to remember is to choose one who will advocate for you and respect your choices. Be open, honest and straightforward with what your beliefs, preferences and hopes are when it comes to your pregnancy, labour, delivery and childcare. If you feel the opinions or ideas of the Midwife or Doula are satisfying her agenda more than yours, move on and look for one that makes you feel comfortable and secure.
Check out their qualifications and experience. It’s not just the number of years that are important but also the areas in which this experience was gained that make the difference.
Whether you end up choosing to go with a Midwife, Doula or both, ask questions, get informed, look for someone you click with, and most importantly, feel you can trust.
“Having a private Midwife helped me to go through labour as naturally as I hoped for and it took the pressure of my partner.” Mama to Rosie and Sebastian
You may also be interested in reading about medically induced labour.
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