I was lucky to chat with a doula and midwife with over 30 years experience – Cheryl Sheriff from Ideal Birth. I had never met Cheryl before, yet I immediately felt a wonderful connection with her, and as a mother myself appreciated her wealth of knowledge on birth and babies. Cheryl has spent over a decade working as a doula, supporting couples who have their babies in Brisbane Hospitals.
Birth can be a scary event that lurks on the horizon when you are pregnant. I know with my first pregnancy. I pretty much delayed any thoughts about birth until my 3rd trimester. Once I reached my 3rd trimester and even after I had done my antenatal class, I still had a big feeling that I was entering an “abyss” ….a very unknown territory – a common fear for many new mamas!
What is a Doula ?
I didn’t have a doula for any of my three births, however after talking to Cheryl, I have learned that a doula provides women with much needed support prior to labour, during labour and after as new motherhood is established. Contrary to many beliefs, a doula does not replace the role of your doctor, midwife or most importantly, your partner.
Cheryl tells us exactly what a Doula does during your pregnancy, birth and postpartum
Women helping women give birth is an ancient practice that is still widespread today and doulas have become a very popular addition to birth support teams in Australia in the past 15 years. The value of continuous labour support has been studied and well documented for many years.
Today its value is even more significant as women enter very medically focused birthing environments. Despite being well prepared and informed, many couples still feel they have to cross their fingers and hope for the best.
Gentle births are easier when the mother chooses and trusts the people with her during labour. A professional trained doula can bring reassurance to both parents. Doulas are trained to suggest position changes, provide massage, and employ other techniques to assist with achieving the desired birth outcomes. They value and respect your need for privacy during this very personal time and can help maintain that in a hospital environment.
The birthing couple’s relationship with their doula usually begins well before birth. “With all my couple’s, I spend time providing balanced unbiased information so they are able to make informed birth choices for themselves. A special connection develops, as I manage and facilitate communication with the couple for preparing and carrying out their plans for birth. My role as a doula is to share their confidence, knowledge and belief in birth, recognising it as a key life experience the couple will always remember.” says Cheryl. Many women feel the need to receive support from someone who trusts a woman’s ability to birth.
Doulas work in birth centres, private and public hospitals and at home-births in conjunction with midwives, but never as the sole carer at birth. As a doula is employed by the birthing couple, the doulas loyalty is always with the individuals she is supporting.
The support role of a Doula
“Although many doulas like myself have previously been midwives, I don’t perform clinical tasks during labour. My role as a doula is to able to concentrate completely on the couples needs.” explains Cheryl. You will never be left alone but supported by a professional who is totally focused on you from the onset of labour until after your baby is born. A doulass success also depends on her ability to communicate well with a diverse group of clinical staff. An experienced doula also becomes respected as an individual and is able to assist you in communicating and advocating for the birth preferences that are important to you – this is something Cheryl does for all couples with a variety of care providers in Brisbane Hospitals.
“As a doula, I like to be intuitive to my couple’s needs at a time when they feel most vulnerable. Our current health care system places pressure on our health carers, particularly midwives – they usually are unable to stay with a woman for her entire labour, much as they would like to, but a change in shifts or Doctor’s often prevents this.” says Cheryl.
A doula becomes a protector of your birthing space helping to create an environment that is comfortable to you and becoming a buffer to all that might distract and affect normal progress. For labour to progress well it requires a fine balance of hormones which can be easily influenced by external factors. During different stages of labour a woman’s needs and preferences may change, even within a short period of time. Being aware and observant is very important. A doula communicates on a visceral level. She breathes with the woman, she feels the experience with the woman and she tends to the emotions where as medical caregivers often communicate only at an intellectual level. Both roles are of course important and complement each other.
Will a Doula displace my partner ?
Studies have shown the presence of a doula doesn’t in any way displace the father, but rather enhances his role. A professional support person assists in decreasing the father’s anxiety, giving him support and encouragement and guiding him in specific tasks, allowing him to reach out to his partner in a more caring and nurturing way.
Fathers with doula support should be able to participate at any level that feels right and natural for them. In this way they can fully experience the joy and wonder of watching their baby come into the world. Birth can then be a truly shared event.
“Birth often makes demands on fathers that exceed those made on medical students” Klaus 2002
Constant doula support has been proven to have many benefits for the progress and outcomes of labour
- 50% reduction of caesarean rates
- 25% shorter labour
- 60% reduction in epidural requests
- 40% reduction in Syntocinon use
- 30% reduction in pain medication
- 40% reduction in forceps delivery
“The period around childbirth appears to be a unique time when mothers are unusually open to change. It is a formative developmental stage and has the potential for either a positive or negative outcome. Because of the new mother’s physical and emotional sensitivity, the care she and her infant receive during this time can have a beneficial or detrimental long term effect on her” Klaus Kennell and Klaus 2002
The benefits of a good birth, where you have felt respected and empowered will flow over into the postnatal period. Its value continues on into many aspects of the lives of families.
Continuity of care by a Doula
Parents’ need for support does not of course stop at the moment of birth. Doula support is also available following birth during the major period of adjusting to their now role as parents. Doulas are able to provide postpartum assistance with breastfeeding and settling techniques as well as physically assisting daily routines with a newborn.
Support, both physical and emotional, continues to be crucial. Women giving birth with doula support have been shown to have higher self esteem and experience less depression and anxiety. They breastfeed more successfully and are more confident in caring for their baby. With the right environment, birth can be empowering and have a profoundly positive effect on the whole family. It is the journey of a lifetime for you and your baby and is worthy of the best possible beginning.
Guest post by Cheryl Sheriff
who has shared her wisdom from her 30 years experience as a midwife and doula and her presence at over 1000 hospital births
Cheryl is also the author of the book Stork Talk