Simply put, a doula is a professional pregnancy, birth, and new parent support person. Someone who’s there to provide support and information during the birth process – much like a mother or best friend but professionally trained to meet your particular needs during and after your pregnancy.
After experiencing difficulties with her first child, then becoming the go-to person for her two sisters during their pregnancies, Leanne became aware of the many challenges that new mothers can face. She realized that although she received support from her friends and family, many women do not have that type of support system to depend on. She wanted to help these women but wasn’t exactly sure where to start.
Leanne shared her new found passion with a close friend and was surprised to find out that the work she’d been doing for her friends and family over the last few months was something she could become professionally certified in: a doula.
Although the field is now much more established, a decade ago most were unaware that this type of support existed.
Excited, Leanne quickly embarked on the training process and was soon a qualified doula.
“It really sort of found me and I think that’s the way you find jobs that really are callings, they kinda just find you because you’re just naturally doing them,” says Leanne.
Although it varies according to the organization, to become a labour doula usually requires a 20-hour workshop, completed over a two-day period. Post-partum doula training requires about ten hours of training and an “intense self-learning process,” says Leanne.
Doulas are also expected to be tapped into their local communities having a firm grasp of the types of birthing options women have at the various facilities in the area – working with doctors and midwives in helping mothers make well-informed decisions for them and their babies.
A few years ago, the demand did not exist to sustain a full-time practice as a doula but with the numerous opportunities and resources now available for small business and entrepreneurs, it’s a field that has been dramatically impacted. Now, becoming a doula is a more viable career choice.
One of the most popular services which doulas provide is overnight support, where a doula comes to a client’s home at night and speaks with the parents about the challenges they are experiencing. Then they take over the baby care and allow the parents to rest.
“If a woman is getting a decent amount of sleep during the night she’s going to be far more resilient during the day and able to ride out the various challenges of being a new parent,” says Leanne.
Leanne believes that people who are natural nurturers make great doulas. “That’s a really key component because I can take a person like that and teach them what they need to know about a doula and they’ll be amazing,” says Leanne.
As a “best friend with skills,” a term that’s used playfully in the business, doulas spend their time getting to know an expectant mother (and their partner), understanding what their perfect birthing experience looks like and helping them in any way to make their pregnancy and birth what they envision. They’re also there to help couples understand their birthing options, support a woman during labour or even provide companionship to a new mother, who are many times isolated from their friends and family in the first few months after giving birth. For women who do not have the support of a mother, best friend, or partner during their pregnancy and birth, the support a doula offers can be invaluable.
Last semester, first-year midwifery students at Mcmaster got the opportunity to learn directly from Leanne as she taught hands-on labour support. Being truly passionate about helping women and passing on all the knowledge she’s gained over the years, Leanne calls the experience “a real joy.”