When Rina Lim and Philip Toh became first-time parents eight years ago, they were hugely excited. They not only attended prenatal classes together, they read up on childbirth and babies, as well as solicited advice from friends and relatives. Yet when the time came for Lim’s delivery, the couple recalled that far from being fully prepared, they were filled with fear and anxiety. “Everyone in the hospital was efficient and knew what to do but my mind just went blank. My husband was of not much help either.”
Lim’s daughter was born without incident, but she wondered if she could have had a more positive and rewarding birth experience. It was only during a chat with some girlfriends later that she heard of the term “doula”. It took a while for Lim to conceive again and now that she is pregnant with her second child, the marketing manager is seriously considering hiring one.
Studies have shown that women who hired doulas reduced their time spent in labour and are less likely to ask for pain medication.
What exactly is a doula? It comes from the Greek word meaning “a woman who serves”. Kong Choon Yen, who founded Childbirth Odyssey, says that in Singapore, the term is often referred to as birth doula.
“She’s a birth companion who provides an expectant couple with information, physical and emotional support with regard to the woman’s pregnancy, during her labour and childbirth, breastfeeding issues and cares for the baby after he/she is born.”
Studies have shown that women who hired doulas reduced their time spent in labour and are less likely to ask for pain medication. Having a doula also helps cut the rate of postpartum depression and boosts mother-baby bonding.
She adds, “Hiring a doula does not guarantee a specific medical outcome, but knowing that you have a trusted person by your side can make a significant difference emotionally.”
But how do you go about hiring a doula with whom you can connect with on various levels? Kong, a certified birth doula, says women should first ask themselves why they want to engage one. “The role of a doula is what you define. Knowing what you are looking for will help you draft your questions to find a suitable doula who meets your personal requirements,” she explains.
Once you decide to proceed, get some recommendations and shortlist a few doulas for consideration. Both experts offer tips in the main questions to ask during the interview, so that you can find the best fit for your needs.
Before you meet the doula
Ask these questions over the phone or via e-mail.
1. Are you available during my estimated birthing day?
Even if she is, check that she has a back-up doula in case she is unavailable, especially if two births happen at the same time. This way, you’ll be assured that you’ll have someone else to support you. Find out who this back-up doula is or request to meet her.
2. Have you attended to births at the hospital I’ll be delivering in?
It’s a plus if the doula has worked with your doctor before or if she’s someone who is familiar with how the hospital you’ll be warded in operates.
The first meeting
This is where you’ll get to know each other ― it’s also a chance for you to decide if you are comfortable talking to her.
Kong says, “Choosing a doula is like finding a friend, a sister, a mother or a guide. She is someone whom you and your husband can trust during the Big Day and can provide both of you with peace of mind, so that you can focus on having your baby.”
Ask these questions:
1. How did you become a doula?
You want to learn about her background, her personality, her approach towards labour to see if her childbirth philosophy matches yours. Some women have chosen doulas simply based on the good chemistry they share.
2. How long have you been a doula? How much experience do you have?
If you have a specific condition, it might be important to you to know how many births or the type of births she has attended to. While some doulas are experienced, they might not have handled cases similar to yours. Similarly, a newbie can also offer great support if she has had good training.
To make your final decision, pick the doula who most meets your emotional needs and rational requirements.
3. What methods will you use to help me through the labour process?
It’s a good time to find out what she thinks of using medication during childbirth. Kong says, “For instance, do you need a doula to push your limits, so that you can achieve a drug-free birth or do you require her to provide evidence-based, unbiased information, so that you can make informed choices yourself?”
4. What other skills and knowledge do you have that can be helpful to me during my journey to parenthood?
If you have specific requirements such as extra help in breastfeeding, then you might want to know if she is also a breastfeeding consultant. She may also be experienced in using hypnosis to help you relax and focus during labour, knows how to handle difficult babies or is able to offer post-natal massage and aromatherapy services. If not, ask if she is able to help you tap into her network of resources.
5. What is your fee?
Check if there are any hidden costs. Warda says it is important to find out if the doula imposes any time limits or additional fees should you have an unexpectedly long labour. “You should also review the doula’s contract for the circumstances that might lead to a refund.”
6. What does your package offer?
You would want to know how many prenatal consultations and postnatal visits are covered in the package, if she is willing to offer you unlimited phone counselling and at what point she will join you during your labour.
The follow-up session
If your intuition says it’s the right match, go ahead and sign the contract with the doula on the spot.
Kong points out, “The birthing body functions well when the labouring woman feels safe, secure and comfortable in her environment.”
Still, most women will likely want to take time to consider their options. So, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Does the doula communicate well with me and my family?
2. Do I feel a connection with her?
3. Do I feel confident about her level of knowledge and expertise?
4. Does she answer all my questions confidently?
5. What does my overall intuition say?
To make your final decision, pick the one who most meets your emotional needs and rational requirements.
Warda sums up, “It’s really all about chemistry, comfort and emotional safety.”
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