What Is A Birth Doula & Why Do Single Moms Need One?

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What Is A Birth Doula & Why Do Single Moms Need One?
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Birth is emotional and unpredictable enough as it is.

Giving birth is a momentous and powerful moment in any woman’s life. But it is also an intensely vulnerable moment, which may push you to emotions and pain levels you never expected.

Every woman needs to feel supported and held during the process. Yet, single moms have to take extra steps to make sure they have a supportive birth team present since they will not have a partner present.

Many single mamas-to-be ask me if they really need a birth doula — especially if they're planning on having a strong network of supportive and loving family and friends present. To them, it almost doesn’t seem necessary to hire a birthing doula, since they'll have their own personal support system on hand.

Of course, the answer is very personal and will vary for each woman. But, the bottom line, is that there’s tons of research to suggest that having a birth doula present at a birth decreases the rate of having a Pitocin induction or C-section, and increases the rate of vaginal births. What’s more, birth doulas decrease the likelihood of feeling dissatisfied with your birthing experience.

And, if doulas improve the outcome of births for partnered women, then they can certainly help single women — potentially even more.


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So, what exactly is a birth doula?

A birth doula is trained to provide continuous one-on-one care to a birthing person during labor and birth. The support they provide can be broken down into four categories: emotional support, physical support, informational support, as well as advocacy on behalf of the mother.

Birth is a primal experience that involves a cocktail of hormones — the primary of which is oxytocin. Oxytocin, often referred to as the “love drug”, helps a woman progress in labor. It’s responsible for creating contractions.

But in order for it to be produced naturally, it requires that the birthing mother feel safe. If the mother doesn’t feel safe, she begins to produce adrenaline, which shuts off oxytocin production. Any type of forebrain activity — such as making complex decisions or managing people and personalities in the room — can take a women out of the mindset that promotes oxytocin production.

Have you ever seen a cat or other mammal in labor? They usually want privacy to give birth and will run away to hide to give birth if interrupted by a human. And while many single moms are masters at competency — they are get it done, figure it out kind of women — you don’t want that side of you showing up to your birth, if you want to keep the oxytocin flowing.

Simply put, doulas take care of all the forebrain stuff for you so you don’t have to. 

Here's how this support from a doula can help single moms during labor and birth:

1. Birth doulas clearly explain what's happening during every step of your birthing process.

They are trained to recognize the different stages of labor. By knowing what stage you are in, they are better able to reassure you that what you are experiencing is normal or not and coach you through it.

2. Doulas are trained in pain management, breathing and positioning.

Birthing doulas can suggest techniques in labor, such as breathing, relaxation techniques, movement and positioning. When you don’t have a partner, this expertise can be particularly helpful.

3. They can translate medical jargon into terms you can understand.

Doulas can’t give medical advice, but they are familiar with the terms and jargon, as well as how to ask informed questions to get to the heart of the issues.

Many times, doctors are in a hurry and will rush in the room to provide information and updates. They may not wait for you to finish a contraction to listen to their information. A doula can listen and relay the information to you when you have time to process it and in terms you can easily understand.

4. Doulas serve as your advocacy partner.

While a doula cannot speak for her client, she is trained to help the birthing mother advocate for herself. They make sure you understand medical procedures before or as they occur.

A doula can ask for space from the care providers so you can process the information, making sure you understand it and giving you time to find evidence-based information if you need to. In the unlikely event, that your wishes are being ignored, they can help amplify your voice.


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5. They help manage emotions and personalities.

Many times, the people who have been invited to support you during your birth can’t handle it. Even though they have the best of intentions, they have their own beliefs, emotions, fears and concerns that you do not want to manage — nor do you have the time or energy to!

A birth doula will be familiar with all of your preferences and can be the conduit of information if necessary — conveying your needs and wishes for you. 

The doula can be the “bad guy” if you are making decisions that make others uncomfortable. For example, in the event you need space from anyone you invited, the doula can ask them to leave, so you can focus on you. (I know many a single mom who has asked her chosen support team to leave the room when things got a bit hairy.)

6. Birth doulas offer continuous birth support.

Part of the definition of a doula is continuous birth support. For me, this was one of the most important aspects of having a doula present.

While I had a long list of friends on my birth team who wanted to be present, no one can predict when labor will start or how long it will take. Many of my support people could not be there for as long as I needed or at particular times of the day or night. Knowing that I had a doula who would be there with me the whole time, no matter who else was coming and going, allowed me to relax and know I’d be supported.

And, she also managed the schedule of other support people for me.

If hiring a doula seems like the right choice for you, here's what qualities you should look:

  • In hiring any doula, make sure you feel comfortable around her and that you two get along really well. While doulas are trained to support your specific wishes, it’s always good to make sure your beliefs match.
  • You also need someone who is rock solid emotionally. Your doula should not panic or get involved emotionally with the doctors or your support team.
  • Make sure your doula understands that you are a single mom and may need extra support. Decide upfront whether she will labor with you in the early stages at home or wherever you choose to labor. What will she do if for some reason you have a protracted birth and need her to be present for several days?
  • And lastly, if hiring a doula, seems too expensive, you may be able to find a doula in training that is willing to attend your birth for low or no cost, so you'll still get the support you need.

The birthing process in unpredictable and emotional.  Emotions can run high for the birthing mother, family and friends. It’s wonderful to have someone present for whatever may arise so that you can focus on staying calm, and going inward to perform one of the most miraculous (but also intense!) moments of your life. Birth doulas manage the outside world, so you can be like the cat who retreats to a private space to give birth. 

All of these considerations apply to women with and without partners but are highlighted by being single. Essentially, doulas are an insurance policy to help keep things running smoothly during a time of unpredictability — so you can have the best birthing experience possible.


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Sarah Kowalski is a Single Mother by Choice, Life Coach, child birth educator and author of Motherhood Reimagined: When Becoming A Mother Doesn't Go As Planned. She provides one-on-one, group coaching and child birth education classes for women who are navigating the path of single motherhood.

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