As a birth doula, a question that I frequently hear at a first interview from the birth partner is
“I want to be my wife’s birth partner, why do we need a doula?”
This is a great question, and I’m always confident in my reply!
Doulas don’t replace partners. On the contrary, birth doulas want partners to feel like they were the key player in supporting mama during the birth of their child. Birth doulas wish to recognize the absolute necessity of a partner’s role in their baby’s birthday. What we do want to help with, in our prenatal visits, is providing partners with the tools they need to feel confident, prepared and knowledgeable about their role during labor and birth.
Many partners have misconceptions that the doula will overstep their bounds and take a primary role in labor support. Birth doulas will support both mama and her partner during their labor and birth. We will observe the couple and offer suggestions to the partner on tools and techniques that will help provide comfort during labor. Often, our partners are so prepared for labor that this isn’t even needed! Other times, partners look to us for encouragement, ideas, or suggestions and then feel confident in executing these. Rarely do partners feel it necessary to take a ‘back seat’ during the birth of their child.
Partners (and mamas) may get tired or hungry during a longer labor, particularly one that starts at night. In these cases, birth doulas can tag-team with partners, to ensure that they get rest when they’re very tired, or nourishment if it’s been awhile since the last meal or snack. Doulas will also assist with nutrition and fluid intake for the mama. We ensure mamas don’t become dehydrated during labor, and try to encourage small bits of easily digestible foods to ensure she keeps her energy up. We usually discuss these preferences during our prenatal visits.
Often, partners need to step away from a birth to attend to siblings, pets, or call anxious family members. In these cases, your doula will step in for you during your absence to offer her physical and emotional support to mama. Additionally, it sometimes takes more than 2 hands to support a mama during the intensity of active labor. In these cases, having another woman in the room devoted specifically to a laboring mama, provides great physical and emotional relief. Knowing birth, doulas often help partners and mamas fully understand what is to be expected (and what is ‘normal’) at any stage of labor.
Doulas know the importance of the release of Oxytocin, “the love hormone” during labor. Close proximity to her partner will often help a mama’s body release this hormone, assisting with dilation and labor progression as well as stimulating the release of endorphins—which help a mama manage the pain of labor and birth. Your doula will encourage close contact, intimacy in the form of verbal encouragement, a slow dance, a hug or a kiss.
Often, circumstances of birth require a deviation from the birth plan. If mama is in a birthing state—where she seems to be ‘in the zone’—the partner will be the one receiving the information from the birth team about interventions. This can feel overwhelming. Doulas can help with the transmission of information as well as promoting the discussion of pros/cons of each intervention and options available to the couple during their care. Doulas cannot make decisions for the couple, or speak on their behalf to the birthing team. However, they can be instrumental in a partner’s confidence in understanding procedures, advocating on behalf of the mama and their baby, and knowing that they made well-informed decisions about their baby’s birth, regardless of the original birth plan.
In some cases, when a couple chooses home or birth center births, transfer to a hospital is necessary. While this often feels disappointing and scary, your doula will be the only person, aside from your partner, who will make the transition to hospital with you and stay until your baby is born. This ensures that the hospital birth team is aware of your original plan, that you have an advocate in the room with you, and that you both fully understand any unexpected procedures and their reasons. In these situations, it is common for couples to reflect on their births and feel strongly that “they couldn’t have done it without their doula”.
To the partner, I share with you that one of my favorite parts of serving couples during birthing days is my attachment to both yourself and the mama. The relationship we’ve built prenatally, and during labor is one of trust, mutual respect, and the understanding that we’re all honoring the birthing day of your baby. Many of my highest recommendations and most genuine testimonials come from birth partners who look back at the birth of their baby as being the most amazing day of their lives. Where they were astonished at the strength and beauty of their partner, blown away by the intensity and intimacy of birth, and instantly in love with their newborn. And where they say, with sincerity, “Thank you so much, Amy, we couldn’t have done this without you”.