You've heard the word Doula. Your sisters best friend had one at her birth. You saw a Facebook post about a birth doula once…but what does a doula do? What is your money paying for?
What does a Doula do? The better question is, what does a Doula not do? -not in a cocky 'doulas are awesome and doulas do it all what do we not do' kind of way but actually, what does a doula not do?
A doula is not a nurse. (Well in my case I guess that doesn't apply but I take that hat off and wear my doula hat at a birth!) Your nurse is employed by the hospital you're giving birth at. She has to change shifts after 8 or 12 hours and she has other patients she may need to be with. She follows hospital policies and doctors orders. She takes scheduled breaks and works with other nurse colleagues who will be in and out of the room to check on you. A doula does not do any cervical checks, blood pressures, IV starts, blood draws, medicine administration or any other clinical duties your nurse does.
A doula is not an OB or a midwife. A doula is a trained birth professional but she is not a medically trained professional.
Imagine this. You meet someone and you fall in love so you decide to get married. You pick a month to get married in. As that month approaches, you get so excited! You talk to your partner about what its going to be like. You talk to your friends who have done it before but most of them tell you all of the things that went wrong on their day and what you should or shouldn't do. You don't know the actual day it's going to happen on so as the days of the month pass, you get nervous that you could have to show up at the wedding venue at a moments notice. You hope that when you get to the venue, they'll have a nice dress for you to wear and the same attendant you spoke to a few moths ago will be there. You haven't met any of the people who will be at your wedding so you just hope they're kind and professional and know how to do their job. You didn't order a cake or flowers or a DJ. You'll just use whatever the venue had left over from another wedding. You have no idea what they'll serve for dinner so you hope it tastes good. And you most certainly didn't plan what you'll do after the wedding once you get home. Sounds silly right?? Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life and you spend probably at least the better part of a year fine tuning all of the details. You spend thousands and might hire someone to help you bring it all together. It is, after all, a day you'll remember for the rest of you life.
So, shouldn't it be the same when you're having a baby? A doula is someone you hire who is there with you from start to finish for your labour and birth. She's like a wedding planner but for your birth. Your doula will meet with you at least once or twice before your birth to go over your wishes and plans. When you're in labour, you don't want to be asked questions. You want to be admired and assisted. You want to be respected and not have to defend your birth choices. Your doula can give you information to help you make the decisions that fit your desires for your birth. She can anticipate what you need before you even have a chance to ask for it. She can help your partner with comfort techniques to help you. She can take care of other tasks so that you and your partner can stay close and connected while you're in labour. She knows many relief techniques to help during labour. She can ask people (read: your in laws ;) to leave the room when you don't feel comfortable doing it. She'll empower you to advocate your choices and help you find your voice when there might be pressure from the doctor or nurses to perform an intervention. A doula will support your decisions to breast or bottle feed and help with either. She'll facilitate the 'Golden Hour' after birth. She'll support your birth at home or a hospital, with an OB or a midwife, vaginal or cesarean. She'll be one of the reasons you look back and think, the day I had my son or daughter I had such a positive birth experience.
A doula will hold your hand, your hips or hold space. She's got your back and will stand in your corner. A doula knows that If a woman doesn't look like a goddess in birth, someone isn't treating her right. ~ Ina May Gaskin
As a doula and a mom of two, I'm always interested in attending different seminars hosted by different pros. For my own curiosity and to add to my bag of knowledge for my clients. The other week I went to a friend's sleep seminar. She's a professional sleep consultant and this was an hour where you could go and bring your baby and hear a sleep expert give some baby sleep tips and then ask her some specific questions about your little one's sleep 'issues'.
I totally expected her to only talk about sleep training. That is, after all, her business. You hire her and she helps you get your baby to sleep...by using a sleep training technique that you and your family are comfortable with. But then, one mom said 'I do what you're not 'supposed' to do and I nurse my daughter to sleep for every nap and bedtime and we bed share and I nurse her to back to sleep multiple times a night'
My friend, the sleep expert asked her if this was working for her...did she want to change what she was doing and sleep train?
Turns out, even sleep professionals who help you sleep train don't think you need to sleep train if what you're doing in your house with your family is working for you.
I'll admit, I'm sceptical of sleep training. I can't let my babies cry whether I'm in the room with them or not. I have a toddler who'll be three in June. I nursed him to sleep and co-slept with him every night for 26 months. I nursed him and held him for most naps for the better part of those 26 months. Unless I was at work or he fell asleep in the car. And guess what? I loved it. He still sleeps with my husband in our bed. Bedtime is zero percent stressful at our house because we're ok with laying down with him until he falls asleep. So I guess I do what you're not 'supposed to do' too.
(Also, there's two of us at home at bedtime every night so that makes a huge difference. That's not the case for every family.)
Now I have a 7 week old daughter and I plan on doing the same thing with her because in our house this is what works and what we feel comfortable with. I'm very pro safe co-sleeping & bed sharing. We co-sleep (specifically bed share) and we do it safely. A firm mattress, no blankets or fluffy pillows, no alcohol or drugs. More information about safe co-sleeping/bed sharing here:
This is what works for us.
If your sleep routine works for you and you're happy and your kids are happy and your husband is happy, keep things just like they are! You don't have to "sleep train" because your mom or your best friend said when your baby is 4 months or 6 months or a year old it's time. You don't have to sleep train because your doctor told you your baby weighs enough and doesn't need to be eating at night. You don't have to sleep train because 'if your baby is still co-sleeping at ____ age it's time' You don't have to sleep train because if you don't now, your kids will always be in your bed with you. (They won't)
You hire a sleep consultant to help you change things because they are not working for your family anymore. You sleep train because you're not happy with the way bedtime or naps or nights are going anymore. Sleep consultants are an amazing resource when your baby is not sleeping and you're not sleeping and something has to change. Co-sleeping doesn't work for all families. I have a friend who tried to bed share with her daughter and she says she doesn't get any sleep at all because she hears every little noise and feels every movement and is too worried about rolling into her. What works for one mom isn't going to work for every mom. Your baby doesn't come out of the womb with an instruction manual. You have to trust your own mommy instincts.
Hire a sleep consultant (my friend Holly http://tinysleepersbigdreamers.ca/ because she kicks ass and she's respectful of her clients wants and needs) if what's happening at nap and bed time is not working in your house & you want your baby to be an independent sleeper right now. Remember, independent sleepers will still wake up during the night (we all do, its biologically normal) but he or she will be able to fall back to sleep without needing you every time.
Don't hire a sleep consultant just because you thought you had to sleep train at a certain age. If you're looking for someone to help you change things, you're looking for a sleep consultant. If you're looking for support, you're looking for a post partum doula!!
My friend Holly put it perfectly when she said, "a sleep consultant will work with your family to make the appropriate changes for independent sleep where a doula will support you with your current situation and what you want to do"
Did your baby sleep? Mine either. Not unless he was in my arms, in a wrap on my chest or had my boob in his mouth. Which meant long nights. Long nights of up and down to nurse and then settle him back to sleep on his back in the bassinet right next to our bed. (You know, the safe way) It meant my husband heard every little movement we made in the night. It meant my newborn almost fully woke up before I could get him latched to the boob and nurse him back to dreamland. Those first few weeks are blurry...as I'm sure they are for most new first time moms. But, breastfeeding was numero uno on my priority list so stubborn me was determined to make sure it worked. By about week three, one morning, after I had nursed for the umpteenth time while my husband snored next to us, I decided to lay my baby next to me in bed. Yes, even after all of the information about how 'unsafe' bedsharing is and about how the most important thing about baby sleep is that its ~alone, on their back, on a flat surface, with no blankets or pillows~ yes I put him in my bed. I removed the blankets, his head was next to my breast with no pillows anywhere close to him and I curled up like a C around him and I learned to nurse laying down! Game. Changer.
My mommy insticts told me that this was good, better even. We could just nurse before either of us had to move or fully wake up and EVERYONE would get more sleep. MORE SLEEP!!
Why is the first damn question everyone needs to ask "How does baby sleep?" As if that's an indication of how good of a mother you are? Can I tell you, it's not. Babies aren't supposed to sleep through the night. Babies are biologically programmed to wake up many times a night. It's normal. How often your baby wakes up is in no way an indication of something you're doing right or wrong. Breastfed babies wake up more often because breastmilk is digested in about 30 minutes....it's good stuff but 30 minutes? Really? Shit.
So. You need to worry about your baby and your family and no one else. You need to do what works for you in your house and (parden my french) fuck what everyone else says about where and how you and your baby sleep.
Bedsharing can be done safely. It has been done by cultures around the world for centuries. As long as you plan to bedshare and you aren't doing it out of pure exhaustion in the middle of the night when you're tired and frustrated and not thinking clearly. As long as you make your bed a safe place with no pillows or blankets near baby, a firm mattress with no fluffy featherbed toppers and you are not under the influence of any alcohol or drugs (prescription or otherwise), bedsharing is quite safe. A mother and her baby are extremely in tune with each other. You might not completely wake up every time your baby fusses but you know about it. You'd know about it if they were in a bassinet or in another room completely or away on a sleepover in ten years. You're a mom now. You just know. Babies should be close to their mothers, within arms reach for at least the first six months of their lives. Asleep, on their backs, on a firm surface with no pillows or blankets around them. It is the safest way to prevent SIDS. Whether you choose a bed of their own in your room or in your bed, as long as it's practiced safely, is nobody's business but yours and your baby's.