What does a doula do and why might Meghan want one?

Shauna with her children. Picture: https://ginamanning.co.uk

Shauna with her children. Picture: https://ginamanning.co.uk - Credit: supplied

Speculation that Meghan Markle might hire a doula to help her through childbirth has led to a new focus on the role. Two Norfolk doulas talk about their work.

Siobhan Ridley Picture: supplied

Siobhan Ridley Picture: supplied - Credit: supplied

New Norfolk doula Shauna Tate is delighted that the royal pregnancy is raising the profile of the role.

Doulas support women during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond, working alongside other medical staff.

'Since having my own children I have felt passionate about childbirth,' said 28-year-old Shauna who qualified as a doula and maternity nurse last year. 'A doula would have been invaluable to me and I wish I had known about them more at the time. My birth experiences were positive, but during my pregnancy I had lots of fear about giving birth and found finding consistent support really difficult.'

Siobhan Ridley is a doula based near Wroxham and the Norfolk representative of Doula UK. She has worked with families across Norfolk,. 'My first birth was such a wonderful experience. It was at the maternity unit in Norwich and I had a student midwife. We were her case study. I felt so supported by everybody I decided I wanted to support women and families too,' said Siobhan. Her second baby was born at home, and for her third, due around the same time as Meghan's, she too will have a doula.

Katie Searle with baby Josie Picture: supplied

Katie Searle with baby Josie Picture: supplied - Credit: supplied

So what does a doula do? The word comes from the Greek for 'woman who serves.'

As a doula Siobhan, who was previously a primary school teacher, helps families find information and make decisions, encouraging and supporting them before, during and after childbirth. 'It might be that they are feeling really fearful about labour, or something is going on in their personal lives; you become a bit of a confidante,' said Siobhan. From pre-birth pelvic pain to breastfeeding a newborn, a doula can help a family access the right help – and might be an expert herself. Siobhan has expertise in hypno-birth and massage. 'We have the time to sit and talk through everything,' she said, 'It's just such an incredible privilege to support people through pregnancy, birth and new parenting. To see a whole new human coming into the world is an amazing thing. You build such strong relationships with the family; you totally fall in love with them!'

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For Shauna, like Siobhan, the support offered depends on what each family needs. They advise expectant mothers to meet several doulas before hiring. 'In general I offer two antenatal sessions to discuss their birth choices, hopes, fears and baby feeding,' said Shauna, of Riddlesworth, near Thetford. 'Helping an expectant mum and her partner to understand birth physiology is a key part of a doula's job. We then have regular contact and from 38 weeks into the pregnancy I am on call 24/7 for the family until the birth of their baby. During labour and childbirth I will provide continuous emotional and practical support.

'I don't know all the answers but I know how to get more evidence-based information and can help people find the confidence to ask medical professionals about things they're unsure of.'

She said she had struggled to find the right help through her own pregnancies, particularly antenatal classes to fit around her husband's long working hours. 'My husband was a fantastic birth partner but we could have done with a doula's birth wisdom help me feel more relaxed and confident in myself,' she said.

Doulas do not have to have medical training but Shauna and Siobhan both belong to Doula UK, which offers training, a code of conduct, and mentoring.

And if the Duchess of Sussex has hired a doula, Shauna reckons she has made an excellent decision: 'Clearly, she's well educated in how to ensure she has the most positive birthing experience possible for both her, her baby and her husband,' she said. And Siobhan added: 'I can imagine that she just wants as many people around her, to give her that care and love, as she can.'

Delivery with a doula

Katie and Danny Searle, of Alpington, near Loddon, felt there were unnecessary medical interventions during the birth of their first baby, Charlie. 'And then we met Siobhan, the wonderful Siobhan, initially as hypno-birthing practitioner and later to become our doula.'

Their second baby, Josie, was born at home. 'Having a doula makes so much sense having been through it. Someone to ask questions of, someone to guide you through the thought processes when under pressure and someone that can bring a wealth of experience to an often complex scenario. Also the connection between midwife and doula can be a real help allowing the birthing couple to be in the moment and focus on the here and now.'

Emma Lewis, of New Buckenham, said: 'As Phoebe was our first child, we just assumed that a home birth couldn't possibly be an option. We formed a very close attachment to Siobhan through the hypno-birthing sessions and when we found out that she also offered doula services, we couldn't believe our luck! Having Siobhan at the birth was amazing. She was the perfect blend between an experienced birthing professional and a caring, calming friend. No job was too big or too small for her and it just felt like having a friend or family member there who you trusted implicitly but without the emotional distraction.'

To find local doulas visit doula.org.uk or norfolkdoulas.co.uk

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