La Dépêche, 9 novembre 2009

20091109-LaDepecheAu Royaume-Uni, les femmes enceintes font de plus en plus souvent appel à des doulas pour les accompagner et les rassurer avant, pendant et après l’accouchement.

A ‘women who support women’ movement is growing in the UK: more and more mothers are turning to ‘doulas’ to help them through pregnancy and childbirth.
Along with the anxiety of giving birth, many women in the UK are also concerned that they may not receive one-to-one care while in labour due to a shortage of midwives in the National Health Service (NHS). That is one of the reasons why ‘doulas’ (also known as labour coaches or birthing assistants) are growing in popularity. Another reason is that many women want a more natural and less medicalised childbirth. With this in mind, some women hire a doula. Doulas give advice, support and encouragement to the mum-to-be before, during and after childbirth. They often take the role of a mother, aunt or sister to the women – there is the idea of ‘mothering the mother’. They are trained and experienced in childbirth, offering practical and emotional support, such as helping the expectant mother to stay as calm as possible through breathing exercises and massage. Last year, about 2,500 women hired a doula to be present during their labour, compared to 700 in 2004.
According to research, if a doula is present at the childbirth, labour is shorter, caesarean sections are less likely, and fathers feel more confident in supporting their partner. Newborn babies born to women with doulas are reported to suffer less foetal distress. In addition, their mothers are more successful at breastfeeding. Impressed by the findings, The Department of Health has given £270,000 to help create volunteer doula services across the country.
It can cost between £150 and £1,000 to hire a doula, figures that are out of reach for some families. However, some volunteer projects aim to help those women who cannot afford a doula. Doula UK, a non-profit association of doulas, has a hardship fund to help families who cannot afford to hire a doula. Ricki Lake, the former daytime TV talks how host, recently attended a fundraising event for the association in London. Lake is a campaigner for natural childbirth. In 2007, she produced a documentary called ‘The Business of Being Born’ which investigated the high rates of caesarean deliveries and babies dying during childbirth in the US.
Mervi Jokinen of the Royal College of Midwives believes it is ‘sad that some women may feel anxious that their concerns will not be heard by health professionals and therefore look to an external advocate such as a doula’. Doula UK makes it clear that doulas are not midwives as they have no clinical training.
Bridget Baker, 63, is a doula who has helped women through more than 100 births. ‘Your doula is your friend, your mum, your favourite auntie who has the most experience with children – all rolled into one’, she says. ‘The main thing is to make mums feel safe. A doula comes as soon as your contractions have started and usually stays until the birth is over and you’re feeling settled.’ Doulas recognize birth as a key life experience that the mother will remember all her life.
For Jo Joelson, mother to 11-month-old Jetson, having a doula was a god-send. ‘Having a doula is like running a marathon but having a personal trainer with you all the way’, she says. ‘She helped me to have a drug-free and completely natural birth, which is what I wanted.’