The Father, the Mother, and the Doula

Guest blog post by Doula Naomi Mitchell.

When I started my doula work, I often found that the mothers really wanted a doula, but the father was hesitant; he worried about whether I would take his place and he wouldn’t be able to help. Nothing is further from the truth, so I wrote this little piece to explain just how the doula works with a couple. I have attended many more births since I wrote this, but this information remains the same.

Doctors assist at births every single day. For them, the individual memories eventually fade, but not for the couple. The mother will remember her birthing experience for the rest of her life. She will remember how others treated and respected her; she will remember the support she received from those closest to her.

I am a birth doula.

With almost every new client interview, the father will at some stage ask what his role will be during labour and birth if I, as a doula, am there – surely he will feel left out or have nothing to do? This is not the case. The doula knows that the father is the most important person to the mother; she knows that the support the father gives is worth everything to a labouring mother’s emotional state, so she knows that to make the mother have a good birthing experience, she needs to make sure that the father is confident and relaxed in his role.

During a typical labour, the father may experience a lot of anxiety. His wife is in pain and he feels unsure and doesn’t really know what to do, he wants to ease her pain, and he also wants to know that what she is going through is normal.

He really wants to help, but has no idea what will help. He wants to be confident and feel like he is in charge, but the strange environment and medical terminology is making him feel insecure, and he may start to lose trust in his ability to help his wife. This may make him withdraw to the side as he is afraid of hurting her, when she really needs his help.

A nurse may mention something he is unaware of or doesn’t understand, and it confuses him or makes him more nervous. He and his wife are left alone for long periods between checks, and this makes him feel vulnerable and scared. If his wife has a new symptom (like vomiting) he will suddenly start to stress that something is wrong, and this is very scary when he is alone.

The father also often gets very tired, hungry, or thirsty, or needs a loo break, but his wife doesn’t want to be alone for even one minute.

His wife may have mentioned to him that she does not want certain procedures (episiotomy, artificial breaking of water, etc.) but in the confusion he forgets to remind the nurse or doctor.

So how does the doula help?

The doula has learnt which type of massage works best for labour, she knows about hip squeezes and relaxation techniques. So she shows the dad how to use them. During labour, she will show him and then let him do the massage. Or she will massage the mother’s back while he holds her in his arms and sways. She needs to see his face and see his strength, as this strength is what gets her through the toughest part.
When something unexpected happens, the doula can quickly reassure dad that it’s a normal part of labour and, if it’s not normal, she will know that it’s time to find a midwife to come and check if all is okay.
A relaxed and confident father brings this across to the mother, who can then in turn relax and know that she can depend on his help. In a relaxed mother, labour progresses faster, as she can surrender her body to nature.

Fear increases tension, which increases pain.

The doula will know the birth plan, she will remind the father as things progress.
I.e., just after birth, if she notices the nurse wants to cut the cord but mom requested delayed cord cutting, she will remind the father, who then will tell the nurse. His voice is an authority that only he can give.
The doula is also there to make sure dad (and mom) eats and drinks, she can run off to make him a cup of tea. He can take a quick break to the loo. Or, if the labour is really long and slow, he can take a little walk outside to refresh himself or even a 20-min nap.
The doula brings the heat pads, the cold cloth, the snacks, the juice. She also has candles and essential oils for massage or aromatherapy. She knows where to find the extra pillows, blankets, or change of gown. She can run for the kidney bowl when mom feels she will get sick.
During the labour, the doula can take photos. These photos are very special memories, and the love and support between husband and wife are easily visible in them.
Naomi’s Homebirth of Benedict. Baby Number 7 (6VBAC) Photo by Talitha Harvey Photography
After birth, the doula will remain to help with breastfeeding, etc., but she sits out of the way and allows mom and dad to admire and get to know their new baby. If dad needs to go to the nursery with baby for the newborn checks, he can be assured that his wife is not left alone; the doula will help her shower safely and get comfortable and ready for baby’s return.
The doula also does two postpartum visits to debrief the birth and see how breastfeeding is going. She will also be able to show new parents how to bath the baby, burp baby, or whatever they are struggling with at the time of the home visit.

A good birth experience does so much to help the mother and father become confident parents.

A doula is one way to achieve this.
So when do you choose a doula?
Anytime during your pregnancy is fine! We can help answer all sorts of questions right from the start. Keep in mind that your doula can only take on a few moms every month, so don’t leave it too late or you will miss out, as she may be booked already!
If you are in PE , you can contact me on my Facebook page:

Naomi Mitchell is a WOMBS birth doula and LLL Leader based in Port Elizabeth. She is a mother to seven children aged between two and seventeen, and she has a passion for homebirth.

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