Each year, around 700,000 babies are born in the UK and yet, I estimate that less than 1 per cent were supported by a doula during birth and/or postnatally.
Doulas are not a newly invented profession; women have been supporting women since the beginning of time and still do in many cultures. Some would even argue that we are the second oldest profession on the planet (you’ll have to guess what the oldest one is…)
Statistically, having a doula present at the birth, lowers the chances of a caesarean birth, reduces the use of opiates and other drugs, shortens the length of labour and birth and increases breastfeeding rates. Studies prove, time and time again that a doula is the best birth partner to help you increase your chances of having a positive birth and postnatal experience.
Yet, despite all these incredible benefits, women still don’t hire doulas!
There seems to be three main reasons why: they think doulas are a waste of money, they think they're for hippies or they don't even know they exist. Let's take a closer look.
They think they're a waste of money
Couples don’t hesitate in spending an average of £27,000 on their wedding day in the UK, but any investment in the birth of their baby doesn’t sit high on the agenda. More focus is spent on clothes, prams, cots and mattresses. Why is that, when the evidence stacks up to prove that a positive birth experience aided by a doula is a very worthy investment?
It has been proven many times that a baby born vaginally, without the use of drugs, will have a healthier life and avoid a lot of the non-communicative diseases that our human race currently faces. Caesarean babies are more likely to develop diabetes, asthma, allergies and become obese. There are even studies suggesting that when a mother takes opiates during labour, a blue print is created in the baby, making the baby more likely to become addicted to drugs in the future.
However, women and their partners are not given this information, so they believe that as long as their baby comes out safely, that's all that matters. Evidence has proven this is simply not the case.
A doula will ensure parents understand their birthing options and then help them use their voices to express their own wishes and stay in control of the birth. This creates a positive birthing experience, which can prevent mothers suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, while promoting bonding between her and her baby.
A doula costs from £300-£2000 per birth, depending on where in the country you are. Many doulas can arrange payment plans and there's even an access fund at Doula UK for those who can't afford the fee. When you think of all the ways a doula can benefit the mother and baby during and after the birth, I would say they're worth every penny.
They think doulas are just alternative care for hippies
Women tend to fall into two categories when they're pregnant. Category one will hand themselves over to the health care professionals, believing they will be advised and guided as to what is best for them and their baby; category two instinctively want to be responsible for their baby’s birth and their own experience, so will read up and learn all they can to make informed choices. The majority of first time mothers will fall into category one, believing category two is only for hippies when the reality is, nothing could be further from the truth.
The first group of women, along with society as a whole, tend to believe there are ‘rules’ and ‘laws’ around what you are ‘allowed’ to do when you’re pregnant, which is simply not true. In fact, you have the right to birth your baby however you'd like and that's not just me saying it, it's something that's protected by law. Society has a tendency to see pregnant bodies as fragile, so much so, that women stop trusting what instinctively feels right. We start to believe childbirth is dangerous and that without a doctor present, we are risking our baby’s and our own lives. But what do we base this on? Actual scientific fact, or is it simply fear?
The truth is, a woman with a healthy pregnancy is 99.6 per cent likely to have a positive outcome, regardless of how, where or with whom she births her child. Getting into your car everyday carries the same percentage risk factor and I’m sure we don’t all think we’re going to die every time we get behind the wheel.
I'm sorry to have to break it to you, but nothing in life is 100 per cent certain or safe. We all have to decide what we consider a ‘high’ risk, based on the actual facts rather than just blanket statements and scaremongering. So, when your care provider suggests that your safest option is to give birth in a certain way, ask for the research AND the actual numbers. You’ll be surprised to learn that many don’t even know.
A doula can help you get to the truth of these studies, enabling you to make the right decision for you and your baby and have the most positive experience possible. Every pregnant woman deserves that – not just hippies ;)
They don't know what a doula is
To me, this is the saddest reason of all because it highlights how little value is put on the role of the woman while she births, her baby and transitions into motherhood. A doula is the number one person to help her do this; yet no one even knows they exist.
There are still ancient tribes and societies in the world that honour childbirth and celebrate the importance of a good birth experience for both mother and child. Our society does not! It puts no value on preparing women for childbirth or offering them good emotional and practical support afterwards. No one seems to recognise that high cost societal problems such as perinatal and postnatal depression and anxiety could be prevented if we were to focus on the root of the problem, through parental support and education. Instead, resources are half-heartedly thrown at families long after the damage has already been done.
Doulas are a comparatively low cost way of changing this. By putting a mother front and centre of her own experience and then giving her the confidence to become the mother she wants to be makes mums, dads, babies and society as a whole, so much happier. Which is why everyone should know about – and have access to - a doula!
A good doula will help you believe in what you instinctively feel is the right thing to do for you and your baby. They will make sure you have all the information, all the positives and negatives of any choice so that you can be fully informed. You have the right to birth your baby exactly the way you want, whether that is a home birth or an elective caesarean. The important thing is that you understand and know the possible consequences of those choices. A doula will make sure you do.
You can find the right doula for you on the Doula Register, all trained by the BirthBliss Academy or check out the Doula UK Find a Doula section.
Kicki Hansard is a member of Doula UK, however any opinions expressed on this blog are personal views and not necessarily the view of Doula UK.