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After recently giving birth with the support of an incredibly helpful doula, I knew I wanted to spread awareness for those who don’t know what doulas offer, may be wondering if a doula would be a good fit for their labor, or may be looking for lactation support for their postpartum time.
I think a big misconception is that doulas only support unmedicated birth, but the reality is they are there to empower YOU to have the birth that you want, and to help advocate for your wishes. They come alongside you during the prenatal period and can help with creating a birth plan, answering questions, and getting you prepared for labor. My doula group offered birth and breastfeeding classes that my husband and I attended together and definitely benefited from.
Some doulas also offer specific postpartum support where they can come to your house and bring you meals, help with breastfeeding, help with taking care of the baby, cleaning, etc. I would highly recommend investing in a postpartum doula, as it’s easy to focus heavily on preparation for your labor and not enough on all the support you will need after the baby arrives. Along those lines, I learned so much from Jessica’s birth and breastfeeding classes during my pregnancy and I am excited to share this interview with you to get an in-depth look into the life and work of being a doula and lactation consultant!
How did you first become interested in being a doula – what’s your background?
I was interested in being a doula after having my first baby. During my first pregnancy I wanted to hire a doula at the end of pregnancy but I waited until the last minute and then the doula I wanted to hire was not available for my due date. My husband and I did our first birth solo and overall it wasn’t a bad experience. However, there were many times during the birth when I did not know what to do. I was mostly doing the right thing, but I could have benefited from the reassuring prescience of a doula. I also wish I would have been given other options during the pushing stage because I stayed in the same position to push for over two hours.
Immediately after the birth, my husband and I both knew that we would have a doula for any future children. When we had our second baby, we hired a doula immediately! That birth was a more challenging birth but with the presence of a doula, it was much more manageable. After experiencing birth without a doula and then with a doula, I knew that I wanted to be a doula. Birth is simply better with a doula and I wanted to be able to provide that support to other moms. My background in psychology and education (a former high school teacher) made the transition easy – I enjoy supporting and educating others while being sensitive to unique individual needs.
How long is the training/certification to become a doula and how did you choose which organization to use?
The training and certification process to become a doula is actually quite simple! I was certified through DONA International. The certification process begins with a 3 day interactive and hands-on workshop. After the workshop, you have to attend 3 births in the certification process and receive positive feedback from the doula client, their nurses, and their providers (doctors/midwives). In addition to the births, you do quite a bit of self study and reflection, attend a childbirth and breastfeeding class, go through some basic business training, and then make connections with local birth resources. I also furthered my study by shadowing some established doulas in the area.
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How many births have you attended?
As of July, 2022, I’ve attended 265 births over the past 6 years as a doula.
Most memorable or longest/shortest birth?
The longest birth I ever attended was actually the first birth I ever attended and I actually LOVED the birth – this was a clear sign that I was meant for this work even in the midst of 2 days of no sleep. Thankfully, I did have the opportunity to switch out with another doula for a short time to get some rest and for the client to have a doula that was 100% while I recovered. There have been several short births – there have been many times when I am talking to a mom on the phone and I tell them “Now! It’s go time right now. You need to go to the hospital because you’re having a baby soon!” and then many of those moms have had babies in less than an hour after arriving to the hospital where I meet them.
Did you use a doula when you were giving birth?
Absolutely. 100%. Doulas need doulas. You can’t doula yourself. I suppose you could, but I didn’t want to. I know the value that a doula brings to the birth space. I can’t tell myself what’s normal. I can’t always tell that things are progressing. I can’t rub my own back. Often times I need someone outside myself to encourage me to change positions. I can’t take priceless photos of myself while in labor. I can’t reassure my husband. I wanted a doula for all those reasons and more.
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Share a little about your business and what support an IBCLC offers?
I began my business, Growing Families Lactation & Doula when I became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. In addition to doula work, I wanted to be able to support families in the next logical step – breastfeeding their babies! In the postpartum time, your OB/Midwife makes sure that the mom is clinically healthy and that she is not having any concerns with her breasts (or the rest of her body). The baby’s pediatrician cares for the health of the baby and makes sure that the baby is gaining weight appropriately. Breastfeeding, however, intimately involves both the mother and the baby working together. That’s where the lactation consultant is essential.
It takes time (usually over an hour) to fully assess feedings in the newborn time and answer questions and concerns for the parents – and that’s when everything is going well! It’s common for families to encounter breastfeeding challenges and lactation consultants are the experts on solving those concerns. What makes my work different at growing families is that I go to the family’s home, I see the baby feeding in their space, and then I suggest modifications in the feeding plan if needed or desired. More health insurance companies are covering in-home lactation visits for free. I can currently see families for 6 free visits if they have Cigna, BCBS, or Anthem for health insurance. If you’d like to see if you are covered for free visits, complete this form
If not covered for free visits, I do a discounted cash-pay rate and I am available as much as needed over phone or text after the visit together. For more information on that, contact me through my website.
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What types of pain management techniques can you offer as a doula?
The most common pain management techniques I use are position changes, massage, using a TENS unit, or getting moms to get in the water (a tub or a shower). If moms desire more than that, I can help counsel on when other techniques could be helpful – things that a hospital provides like laughing gas (nitrous oxide) or an epidural.
What would you say is the biggest reason to hire a doula?
Knowing that a doula will be at your birth is priceless. Birth is unpredictable. A doula can help you be flexible, know what questions to ask, and know what your options are no matter which way your birth goes. A doula is also incredibly helpful in the prenatal time as you prepare and in the postpartum period as you adjust to life with a new baby.
Do you attend home births?
Yes, but they must have a Certified Nurse Midwife in attendance because a doula is not a healthcare provider.
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How do you juggle the unpredictability of doula work while raising a family?
I have A LOT of family support! This is key! My husband is incredibly supportive and he has a flexible job that allows me to go to births when needed and not need to worry about childcare for our four kids. It also means that we don’t go out of town often at all because I’m usually on call or at least the second doula on call in case two moms have their babies at once. I could never do doula life without the support of committed doula partners. This allows me to escape at times and not be on call 24/7. It also gives my clients the reassurance that they will have a doula that they know at their birth no matter when it happens.
Most rewarding and most challenging part of your job?
Most challenging – on-call life. Most rewarding – watching families grow. It never gets old. To be invited into this special time for families is an honor and I’ll never tire of it.
I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at doula life! Feel free to drop any questions you have in the comments and reach out to Jessica if you’re looking for doula/lactation support in the Triad area of North Carolina! Also, stay tuned for my birth story that I’ll be sharing in the next few weeks. Thanks for reading!