What your doula wants you to know about birth

What your doula wants you to know about birth

World Doula Day is coming up! Doulas dedicate their lives to supporting new parents. Birth doulas are on-call to be with laboring parents at the drop of a hat, anytime of day or night. It takes a special type of person to be a doula, and a strong passion for birth is a given. Doulas have a deep understanding of the birth process and modern birth practices. By sharing their wisdom, they help parents make informed decisions and have better birth experiences. Here’s what your doula wants you to know about birth. 

The best place to give birth is where you feel safest

One of the biggest decisions you’ll make as a pregnant person is where you plan to give birth. Whether you choose a local hospital, freestanding birth center, or home birth, what matters most is that you and your partner feel comfortable with your decision. The environment in which you labor and give birth makes a huge difference in the experience you’ll have. It’s essential that you feel safe! Like any mammal, labor happens when you feel secure and comfortable. 

Early labor can be long 

…and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Early labor can last hours or even days. Some birthing people have contractions for just a few hours at a time for several days in a row before true active labor picks up. A lot of people get dismayed if early labor fizzles out or takes a long time, but a slow early labor is totally normal. This is the body’s way of easing you into the birth process, making incremental but essential cervical changes that help bring your baby down. Doulas often share early labor tips that parents raise their eyebrows at, like to completely ignore early contractions. This is because early labor is very much a mental game. It’s like the beginning of a marathon – you have to pace yourself! You’ll know it’s still early labor when you can talk through your contractions or only need to breathe lightly through them, and contractions are not coming consistently. Rest, eat, hydrate, and distract! When your contractions take your full attention and are growing longer, stronger and closer together, you’re heading into active labor. 

Coping in labor isn’t just physical 

It’s a mental game, too. While managing physical pain and fatigue are obviously important, they’re just two pieces of the puzzle. How you feel mentally and emotionally play a huge part in how you are able to cope with what comes during labor. That’s why special touches like lighting and music make such a big difference. If you feel calm and relaxed in between contractions, you’ll be able to cope better during the peak of contractions. It’s also essential to take labor one step at a time, and to not get ahead of yourself mentally. If you find yourself thinking “if it’s this bad now, how bad will it be in X hours?” – it’s time to breathe deep and focus only on the moment in front of you. 

Choose your birth team mindfully 

You will remember the faces of the people who were with you during labor for a lifetime. Some of those people you may not be able to choose, like your L&D nurses or the specific doctor in your practice who will be on call. But you CAN make sure to choose a practice you feel comfortable with, who respects your wishes and treats you with kindness. And you CAN choose a doula who you trust and who puts you at ease. When you trust your care team, the whole process goes a lot more smoothly. If you feel held and supported by your birth team during intense moments in labor, you’ll cope better than if you feel like you have to keep your guard up. 

Cervical dilation isn’t everything 

People often equate cervical dilation with labor progress, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Effacement (how thin your cervix is) and station (how far down your baby is) are two equally important factors. Your baby needs to drop down in order for contractions to put pressure from their head on your cervix, which leads to dilation. And your cervix needs to soften and thin out before it can open, too. 

Another important thing to note about cervical dilation is that it doesn’t tell you how close you are to having a baby. You can be walking around at 4 cm throughout your last two weeks of pregnancy without experiencing labor contractions. You can also go from 0 to 10 cm in mere hours (or rarely, less!). So as your birth doula will remind you, don’t overthink cervical dilation. It can certainly sometimes be a helpful tool to estimate progress, but it’s just that – an estimate. 

You have the right to say “no”

…to anything. Informed consent and informed refusal are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have informed consent without the ability to say no. You can say no to routine pregnancy tests, vaginal exams, membrane sweeps, IV’s… the list goes on. If you’re not sure, you can absolutely say “not right now.” Then discuss options with your birth team. If your provider suggests an intervention you’re unsure of, a helpful response is to ask for some time to consider. For example if your provider suggests artificially rupturing your amniotic sac, but you’re not ready for that yet, you can ask to reconsider in a couple of hours. It just might break on its own in that timeframe, anyway!

Movement and positioning make birth happen

Birth is a dance between the baby and the birthing person’s body. The baby needs to tuck their chin, hold their arms close to their chest, and make specific rotations throughout the birth canal. The birthing parent’s uterus needs to efface and dilate, and their pelvis needs to make space for the baby to descend. All of this is helped tremendously by body balancing and movement throughout labor. One of your birth doula’s main jobs is to help suggest different positions to ease labor pains and encourage progress. Practicing these positions during pregnancy will help you maneuver into them more easily during labor. 

Your birth doula believes in you

Most of all, your birth doula wants you to know that you can do this. No matter when, where, with whom, and how you give birth – you WILL get through it. If you’re having trouble believing in yourself and actually imagining yourself as a new parent, try to let some of your birth doula’s confidence rub off on you. Trust yourself, trust your baby, and trust the process. Your birth doula knows that you’ve got this!