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Doulas on The Rise in Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | August 11, 2015 | 12:00 AMJanelle Oswald

Baby-birthing season has arrived with August and September being the most popular for births.

As your due date looms and you work down your checklist, have you thought about hiring a doula?

Doulas are on the rise in Jamaica especially for 'corporate yummy mummies', and are becoming more popular world-wide. Despite being an ancient practice, women are choosing to support each other physically and emotionally before, during and/or after child birth.

Also known as a birth companion and post-birth supporter, the word 'doula' comes from the Greek word doule, meaning, 'handmaiden' or 'woman who serves', which is exactly the role of a doula for a labouring woman, to serve the labouring mother and help her have her desired birth outcome.

Speaking exclusively to Stephanie Brennan, Natalie Reid-Morris and Khara Perkins-Chang, The Gleaner learnt that, collectively, these mumprenuers have set up a social-enterprise business Empowered Divas, to help expectant mothers, especially first-timers, to embrace motherhood.

Mother of four, Perkins-Chang said, "A birth plan helps prepare your labour and birth, clarifying your desired vision for your experience. Birth plans do not control what will unfold during labour and birth, but aids and encourages everybody to relax with more confidence and to stay connected to the essential goals of the mother and birth team. Excellent preparation and communication increase the chances of your visions coming to fruition.

Good outcome

Mother of one, Brennan added: "No matter your birth choice, good birth outcomes happen when fear is replaced by confidence and an understanding of the mother's body."

Dr John H. Kenneell once famously said: "If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it."

A doula is a massage therapist, friend, therapist, DJ or anything else a mother needs her to be during labour. She is a shoulder to cry on or an encouragement when the mother thinks she can't go on.

Like all women who have experienced child birth, labour is not often easy (thus the name), but there is a lot of evidence that the presence of a doula can shorten labour and improve birth outcomes. Explaining how doulas often show their support during labour, Reid-Morris said: "Doulas provide continuous emotional and physical support, assist in finding resources to research birth choices before labour, accommodate the mother's wishes for the birth environment (low light, soft music, etc.). They also encourage the mother to communicate with her doctor and to be informed about any procedures and intervention and support the father or birth partner in the best way to support the mother."

However, a doula never replaces the very important role of the birth partner. A good doula will help the birth partner by suggesting ways the father can support the labouring mother and things that can improve their synergy in labour.

Describing what they do not do, Brennan explained to The Gleaner: "Doulas are not medical professionals and do not give medical advice. They will not perform tasks like checking blood pressure, doing cervical exams or monitoring the baby's heart rate. It is also never the place of a doula to judge, condemn or go against a mother's wishes."

American Journal of Managed Care reported last year: "Doula-supported women had lower odds of caesarean compared without doula support. The odds were 80-90 per cent lower among doula-supported women."

So, can become doulas too? All three women expressed a resounding yes!

"Absolutely! My husband has played all roles," said Perkins-Chang. "Many men have been key in reshaping the conversations around so-called alternative methods of birthing. Men are fundamental to the entire process."

Brennan concluded: "Find a support system or reach out for help when needed. Motherhood is often very emotionally challenging. It takes a village to raise a child and, as mothers, we should be there for one another, without judgement, to offer love and support."

janelle.oswald