Birthful: Episode 17 – Birth Doulas

Why this podcast?
I first heard about the Birthful podcast in a doula group I belong to on facebook. There was a discussion of people’s favourite podcasts (I know, perfect for me, right?!) and someone mentioned Birthful.

This podcast is made up of interviews with pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding and parenting professionals.

The host, Adriana Lozada, is –

a mom, author, speaker, birth doula, postpartum educator, and healthy sleep consultant

She is experienced in many different fields relating to pregnancy, birth and beyond. Her aim with creating this podcast is to

Inform your intuition

When I first read that, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. It sounded a bit vague to me but after I let it sink in for a while I felt it really captured the essence of what I, as a doula, believe so passionately in. That the birthing woman has access to solid information and that she trusts her own intuition. You can’t go too far wrong if you combine these two elements.

How does it look?
Episodes are released weekly and are generally around an hour. Topics range from VBAC, breastfeeding and safer bed-sharing to vaginal rehab, your pregnancy microbiome, and surrogacy. With over ninety episodes to date, there is a whole lot of information on a really wide range of subjects.

At the time of writing, I have listened to three episodes of Birthful and I have to say that Adriana’s interviewing style took me a little while to get used to. Whilst it is not always as smooth and fluid as some other hosts I came to really like it. She creates a lovely, relaxed atmosphere that pervades each episode and it is less a Q&A session than a conversation with her guests. You really get a sense of warmth and passion from Adriana for what she does and that I love that.

The podcast not only brings out her passion for birth, but also the wisdom and experience from the professionals being interviewed.

Why this episode?
A couple of days after I saw the recommendation for Birthful, I sat down to scroll through the episodes, trying to decide which one to listen to first. I finally found this episode on Birth Doulas and realised that it would be perfect!

Many people are still not totally clear on what a doula is and, as a birth doula, I felt it made sense to feature a doula episode on my blog!

Who should listen to this episode?
Anyone who is expecting a baby. Even if you are not considering a doula you may find that what they can provide is, in fact, just what you are looking for.
If you are the partner and the mother is thinking of hiring a doula this episode may help to alleviate any concerns you may have.

The episode
This episode features a birth doula, Sharon Muza. Sharon began as a birth professional in 2004 and has supported hundreds of couples as a DONA (Doulas of North America) certified doula. Amongst other things, Sharon now trains birth doulas and has been involved in leading the Seattle chapter of ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network).

Adriana begins by asking Sharon exactly what a doula is. The response she gives is wonderful:

Support without judgment. 

She points out that having your mum, sister or best friend at your birth can be great but they will generally have something to say about how you do things.
A doula will not.
A doula will support you and your decisions unconditionally.

The role of the doula is not to shine or to be in the front but to be in the shadows’

It is about you, not them.

There are several different types of doulas. Birth doulas and postpartum doulas are perhaps the most well known but there are also doulas who specialise in early pregnancy. There are even doulas to support you if you decide to terminate your pregnancy. This episode focuses on the role of the birth doula.

A doula is for every kind of birth
A very common misunderstanding surrounding birth doulas is that only single mums need them or those planning for a natural, ‘hippy’ style birth. But that’s not the case.

Doulas will support you if you want an epidural. They will support you if you decide you want a C-section.

Another myth is that if a couple decides to work with a doula the partner will be usurped. The doula will take over. This is absolutely not the case.

Different people have different comfort levels when it comes to birth. Some partners will want to be one hundred percent involved while others may want to sit on the sidelines. Having a doula there means that the woman and the partner’s needs can both be met.

If your partner needs to take a step back a doula is there to be with you and support you. If your partner wants to be totally hands on and help in any way they can, a doula can help them support you in the best way possible – as Sharon says:

”if they can work well together during labour that’s a really solid foundation into which to launch into parenting”

A birth doula can help you to prepare for the birth emotionally and informationally. They can assist you in finding evidence-based resources so that you can make informed decisions both during your pregnancy and at your birth. Preparing your birth plan is also a key area in which it can be helpful to have the support of a doula.

During the birth, a doula can help with comfort measures (hot or cold packs, pressing on your lower back or position ideas). The doula can either provide these herself or show your partner what they can do.

She can also remind you that it is ok to ask questions when a medical procedure, like administering Pitocin or performing an episiotomy, is suggested. She will not speak for you but she will gently remind you that it is your right to get the information that you need to make informed decisions for you and your baby.

How might this look?
Well, let’s say you have expressed that you do not wish to receive an episiotomy and your care provider is about to perform one.

Your doula would not say
‘No, don’t do that, she said she doesn’t want it’. 

What she might say is
‘Your care provider has said they are about to perform an episiotomy. Did you hear that? Do you consent to that? Do you have any questions about it?’

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

 Sharon underlines that a doula has no medical role. I really love that she then goes on to point out that because a doula is not burdened by clinical responsibilities, she can focus solely on supporting the birthing woman and her partner.

Continuous support
This is probably the essence of a doula’s role. Your partner may need to leave occasionally to get some air, to eat some food or grab a change of clothes. Midwives and nurses will come and go according to their shifts. A doula will be with you continuously (ok, they also need bathroom breaks and the odd, quick bite to eat) but they will work around you and your partner and they will never be away for long.

Having that continuous support has been shown to make a big difference.

Good doula behaviour
At one stage, Sharon talks about ‘modelling good doula behaviour’. I have to admit I was curious where she was going with that but I soon realised that she had nailed another really important way that having a doula can benefit your birth.

A doula will generally keep her voice low. She will not talk to you during contractions. She may dim or turn off the lights when she arrives or simply knock softly and tell you who it is when she enters your room. When others see this they will often start to do the same. This can really help to keep your birthing space calm, quiet and safe.

I think it is important that Sharon does not shy away from addressing the idea of possible tension between doulas and care providers. The idea does exist that doulas see medical staff as out to interfere with the birth and perform unnecessary interventions and that doulas are seen as some kind of guard dog, fiercely protecting their clients and speaking on their behalf.

Whilst these are exaggerations you do sometimes hear of medical staff being uneasy about the presence of a doula. The vast majority of doulas, however, know that it is not their role to speak on behalf of their client and that it is absolutely not about them or their ideas for birth. It is about the birthing woman. As Sharon points out, as long as we remember that a doula’s role is to help her clients find their own voice there should be no reason for any tension.

I think it’s great that she extends this thinking further by pointing out how vital it is to keep the atmosphere in the birth room relaxed. Any tension can negatively affect the birth. A doula’s role is to lessen any tension and stress, not to increase it.

The more often that care providers see doulas at births, the more they can appreciate the doula’s role in spreading calm to all those in the room. Being calm and relaxed are key elements for a smooth birth.

To wrap up
It’s probably fairly clear that I’m very much pro doulas but I really believe that the presence of a doula can greatly benefit you and your partner during labour and birth. No matter what kind of birth you want.

I highly encourage you to listen to this episode and to explore the idea of having a doula.

If you have experienced birthing with a doula, I would love to hear your story. Please leave a comment below.

Until next time!

Other episodes on this topic
The Pregnancy Podcast: Episode 23 – Doula

The Cord: Episode 009 – What is a Doula and How your Partner Benefits Too

The Birth Hour: Episode 76 – Being a Self Advocate and Using a Doula

Emily Wills is a doula based in Stockholm. She believes that birth can be a beautiful and empowering experience and started this blog as a way of sharing some really great podcasts. She is also a mother of three and an enthusiastic runner.
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