Gentle Birth Companions: doulas in the UK by Adela Stockton
‘doula’: lay birth and postnatal companion, provides sustained emotional and practical support to expectant women, new mothers and their families, during the time around childbirth
Marking ten years since the arrival of the doula in the British childbirth arena, Gentle Birth Companions tells the story of the UK doula movement for the first time. A comprehensive account of the doula’s origins, attributes and credentials is supported by historical and socio-political comment on the growing UK doula community and its influence on the worldwide doula network. The author explains reasons why expectant women and birthing families need doulas, at the same time presenting informed discussion on the implications of the doula role for future midwifery practice. Interjected throughout with lively interviews and other material supplied by working doulas, including further resources, Gentle Birth Companions has been developed in collaboration with members of leading organisations Doula UK and SDN, and is set to become a key reference within its field.
A record of this significant period in the history of the modern doula, and its consequences for birthing families and the provision of maternity care, is required for the educational purposes of the doula community and others working in the field of childbirth. It is also a timely resource for the growing numbers of expectant mothers and new parents who are seeking to improve their experience of childbirth and early parenting.
Gentle Birth Companions is divided into three sections
In part one, Stockton traces the doula role from its ancient origins through to modern interpretations, clarifying the inherent differences between the doula’s responsibilities and skills and those of the midwife. Raising questions around what makes up the true essence of a doula, the author discusses the relevance of training and regulation for the lay role; the part played by leading doula organisations and other related initiatives, in contributing to the UK’s pivotal position within the wider global doula arena, are also outlined.
Part two explores how and why appropriate social support can make a vital difference to the long term health and well-being of birthing women, new babies and their families. Drawing on evidence from recent research findings, Stockton illustrates how the support of a doula can reduce the incidence of caesarean birth, encourage successful breastfeeding and lessen the risk of postnatal illness. The idea that, through shared understanding and implementation of ways of effectively supporting the normal physiological processes involved around childbirth, the doula’s role may positively influence future midwifery practice, is proposed and examined.
Part three comprises a rich selection of birth, postnatal and personal doula journey vignettes contributed by working doulas, which highlight poignantly the ongoing need for the role of the lay birth and postnatal companion during the childbirth year. A check list of doula’s tips and tricks are also included here.
Gentle Birth Companions will be an essential reference for student and working doulas, student and registered midwives, student and qualified obstetricians and paediatricians, childbirth educators and others working in the field of childbirth. Furthermore, it will provide a vital resource for expectant women or couples, and new parents, as well as mothers and grandmothers who are considering training to become a doula.
Natural childbirth pioneers Michel Odent (The Farmer and the Obstetrician 2002) and Sheila Kitzinger (Birth Crisis 2006) include single chapters describing the doula role, while Emma Mahoney outlines the doula’s role from a mother’s point of view in Stand and Deliver! And Other Brilliant Ways to Give Birth (2005). Stockton’s first publication Birth Space, Safe Place: emotional wellbeing through pregnancy and birth (2009) refers to the practical role of the doula as a part of preparing for and protecting gentle ‘undisturbed’ birth. The remaining literature refers exclusively to the US trained doula, working within the US maternity care system.
Most recently published is Rachel Zimmerman & Ananda Low’s The Doula Guide to Birth: Secrets Every Pregnant Woman Should Know (2009), which focuses specifically on the skills and knowledge of the birth doula in America. Classic texts The Doula Book: How a Trained Labor Companion Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth by Marshall Klaus, Phyllis Klaus & John Kennell (2nd ed 2002) and Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and Other Labor Companions (3rd ed 2008) give highly informative and comprehensive accounts, but from the viewpoint of founder members of the US doula movement.