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Why Birth Support Matters

Birth Preparation

When you ask a mother about the most memorable moments in her life, a time when she was full of joy, fear, excitement, love and pain, her answer will most probably be ‘childbirth’.

 

Whether your child is 3 months, 3 years or 30 years of age, a woman can instantly recall, replay, reflect and retell the story of the day her child was born.

For many women the birthing process is classed as one of the most challenging, intense and incredible experiences that they will have in their lives. It is an event that holds a very strong sense of memory, and is a pivotal turning point in who she is.

This being said, I have to ask why so many women go into this experience under prepared and without adequate support. Once upon a time there were mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and other elders in the community present to support a woman through the experience of childbirth. As time has passed our sense of family and community has dwindled. Women used to be exposed to birth through their sisters, cousins and other friends, and a safety net and support system was formed. Today, however, we are expected to walk into the great unknown with a barrage of horror stories around birth and an equally frightened partner, holding your hand for support.

When you look at a marathon runner who is about to endure a 40km run, or an iron man or woman who will spend the next 8 hours pushing their body to the limit, not only do they prepare and train, but they also surround themselves with support. Someone to give them food and drink, another to massage their weary legs and a coach to inspire, to encourage and to hold them to their goal when they start to fatigue or feel like giving up.

This process of support is normal, in fact, expected. Yet in childbirth, a similar event of endurance, many women enter into their experience without training, support or knowledge.

For many women the birthing process is classed as one of the most challenging, intense and incredible experiences that they will have in their lives. It is an event that holds a very strong sense of memory, and is a pivotal turning point in who she is.

From our research of interviewing hundreds of women over the past 10 years what we found was that nearly 85% of women felt dissatisfied, unhappy and some quite traumatised by their birth experience. Three main factors kept arising.

  • The first was knowledge, that they didn’t feel adequately prepared or informed about birth. ( This is where Calmbirth comes in!! )
  • The second was they didn’t feel safe in their birth environment.
  • The third was they didn’t feel they had the right support. Many women reflected on how important it was having their partner there, but commented that their partner felt just as frightened as they did, and didn’t know what was happening.

Enter the doula or birth attendant. A woman who is there to nurture, create and provide support for the birthing couple with the aim to educate and empower women to achieve their desired birth.

A birth attendant meets with the pregnant couple, to get to know them and to form a relationship, so that continuity of care can be established. An understanding is achieved around the type of birth the couple wants and then the birth attendant helps to educate them on how that can best be achieved. For example, if a woman wants to have a natural birth, then the place she chooses to birth is very important. Birth practices today in Australia are highly interventionist and for a woman who wants to birth naturally, a good understanding is needed of how the system works and what it takes to achieve a natural birth.

The benefit of a doula or birth attendant is that they are with you for the entirety of the birth, through all the shift changes, helping to alleviate the stresses and interruptions that changing staff can bring in large maternity hospitals.

There are many statistics that support the benefits of a trained birth attendant.

As recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and according to many independent studies from around the world, where an experienced birth support person was present, the following benefits were observed (Klaus, Marshall H., John Kennel et Phyllis Klaus)

  • Shortening the length of labour by up to 25%.
  • Reducing the possibility of a Caesarean by 51%
  • Helping to minimise interventions such as inductions and epidurals.
  • Reducing the need for medical pain relief by up to 35% and a reduction in Forceps use by 57%. ( 1 )

A review of the evidence of obstetric and postpartum benefits of continuous support during childbirth was recently published (Scott, Klaus and Klaus, 19xx). Twelve individual randomised trials have compared obstetric and postpartum outcomes between doula supported women and women who did not receive doula support during childbirth. 

Eight of the 12 trials report early or late psychosocial benefits of doula support. Early benefits include:

  • reductions in state anxiety scores,
  • positive feelings about the birth experience, and 
  • increased rates of breast-feeding initiation. 

Later postpartum benefits include:

  • decreased symptoms of depression,
  • improved self-esteem,
  • exclusive breastfeeding, and
  • increased sensitivity of the mother to the child’s needs. 

The results of these twelve trials strongly suggest that doula support is an essential component of childbirth. A thorough reorganisation of current birth practices is in order to ensure that every woman has access to continuous emotional and physical support during labour. (2)

We know, from speaking to many Partners that there has been a reluctance to have a birth attendant, as there is a concern that she will take over. A birth attendant is there to support the couple and the birthing team. Many partners have reflected to us in our research of how they felt out of their depth when complications arose. Unless a partner has been around birth or is in the medical profession, they are also entering into an unknown world. What does ARM mean? Or perhaps a run of antibiotics for GBS? A birth attendant can help break down what certain procedures or protocols mean, so a couple can then choose the best course of action for them. As well as support throughout the pregnancy, sharing information and physical support throughout the labour, i.e. massage and touch, a birth attendant is there to hold the space for the woman emotionally. Most birth attendants or doulas are mothers and know full well what an intense experience giving birth is. With their own personal experience and understanding of the birthing process they are able to empathise, inspire, support and encourage women through the intense journey of birth. When a woman is frightened or tired or anxious, a birth attendant can look her in the eye and know how she feels and share the incredible mystery of what it takes to bring your baby into the world.

And on top of all that she can provide at the birth, a doula is also present for postnatal support, ensuring the continuity of care. Most doulas visit you at home after your baby is born and can assist with breastfeeding or any other practical household concerns you may have. We have also found in our own experience how beneficial birth debriefing can be. 1 week, 2 weeks or 6 weeks after the birth, I find it is very important for a woman to talk about her birth experience, particularly if there was some form of trauma or dissatisfaction. Having been at the birth, the birth attendant can also give her side of the story and help the mother to explore any unresolved feelings.

Undoubtedly giving birth is one of the most incredible experiences of a woman’s life. We, as birth attendants and doulas, are all working together to provide a better system for women that support, honour and recognise the individual needs of each birthing mother. 

To have a good birthing experience not only enables you to feel empowered as a woman, it also gives you added confidence on the amazing journey of mothering. 

References

Klaus, Marshall H., John Kennel et Phyllis Klaus. Mothering the Mother: How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier, and Healthier Birth. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing House, 1993.

(2)Scott KD, Klaus PH, Klaus MH.   The obstetrical and postpartum benefits of continuous support during childbirth.  Journal of Womens Health Gender-Based Medicine 1999 Dec;8(10):1257-64.

 

 

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