What is a doula? Everything you need to know about mum-to-be coaches and the celebrities who love them

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Lots of expectant mums get nervous before having a baby, especially if they’ve watched One Born Every Minute. That’s why some opt for a calmer experience with help from a doula, a non-medical partner who can be there before, during and after the birth to provide physical, emotional and practical support.

A-listers like Nicole Kidman, Kelly Rowland and Jessica Biel have used a doula’s services. Former Destiny’s Child star Kelly said, “The light and energy she brought was amazing! She made me feel so relaxed and ready for birth, she dismissed all fear and gave me a focus of love.”

They’re not just for the rich and famous, though. And they’re not always women either – male doulas are more rare, but they’re welcome to train with Doula UK.

Birth doula, antenatal educator and hypnobirthing expert Dani Diosi explains more…

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What can a doula do to help?

A birth doula will be present at childbirth, while a postnatal doula will help you wade through those early days. Dani explains, “We’re like a coach who prepares and guides mums through birth and beyond. We’ll do whatever they need to feel empowered, from holding hands to breathing exercises, [creating] birthing playlists, translating doctor speak and even keeping partners calm.”

Dani adds, “We might do overnight shifts to let new mums sleep, cook meals, give breast-feeding tips and any other jobs that help parents get to grips with their new roles. Unlike a nanny who cares for the baby, we’re cheerleaders for the mother, reassuring them that their baby won’t break and their instinct is right.”

Research shows a doula can help parents have a calmer, happier, shorter birth, reduce anxiety and promote successful breast-feeding.

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What’s the science?

“Women must feel safe and relaxed to give birth. If you’re anxious, your loved-up, floaty birth hormones are pushed aside and that’s when complications can occur,” Dani explains.

“By being that familiar face, doulas encourage the production of endorphins and oxytocin, helping to avoid intervention, Caesarian sections and postnatal depression.”

Do you get any strange requests?

“We might be asked to give a massage, or something a bit more intimate,” Dani reveals. “I tweaked a client’s nipples once, with her permission. Nipple stimulation produces a hormone called oxytocin, which you need to give birth. It wasn’t in the job description but it worked!”

How do midwives feel about having doulas around?

“Doulas often have a reputation for stopping doctors from entering the labour room,” says Dani. “But midwives are generally grateful for our presence as it gives them time to step back and focus on the rest of their job – assessing a woman’s labour."

"If a midwife is present, a doula should not be doing anything medical even if she has qualifications. We’re taught the boundaries and do a training programme and have DBS checks.”

Have you experienced tragedy in your work?

“Yes. It was a shock for everyone but I had to keep it together and be professional. I’m not sure how I did it,” says Dani. “I kept in touch with the parents and thankfully they had a healthy baby a few years later.”

Do doulas need support to give birth?

“I had my youngest, who’s now 15, with a doula. She was the calm in my intense storm,” says Dani. “I’d had a traumatic experience during my first birth, so she held my hands and looked into my eyes to convince me that I could push my baby out and I was in control."

"It gave my husband time to squeeze my hips and ignore everything else. Those looks, words and touches give you the strength to carry on.”

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How do I find the perfect doula for me?

“If your friends recommend a doula then you’ve already got that trust. If not, type your postcode into the Doula UK website. You’ll find a photograph and bio of each doula in your area,” says Dani.

“It’s important to meet your doula, even via a video call. You have to feel like you want them there at the birth and the doula must feel that she can connect with you, too.

“Doulas aren’t cheap because we’re on call 24/7. On average it’s £1,200 to £1,500. When you’re both happy, you’ll pay a deposit and attend antenatal classes before the birth. Your doula will be on call 24/7 and be with you as and when you go into labour.”

Dani adds, “Postnatal doulas charge by the hour depending on their experience and the practical jobs they’re willing to do.”

See doula.org.uk for more information. Dani’s book Hypnobirthing – Breathing in Short Pants is available from Amazon and mamaserene.co.uk

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