Finding a doula
A doula – which is a greek word meaning ‘a woman at the service of another woman’ – provides emotional and physical support during pregnancy, birth (though this may depend on your choice of care provider and place of birth) and the postnatal period.
Most doulas are mothers themselves and their goal is to accompany the future parent(s) on their journey of discovery, all the while respecting the choices and wishes of the parent(s).
Having continuous support during labour - whether from your partner, a midwife or a doula - can make a huge difference to how your labour unfolds. It can help you feel safe and reassured, help you deal better with pain and discomfort, and that person can encourage you and help keep you mobile.
All of this can help you tune in to you natural birthing instincts and make for a smoother experience for you and your baby.
If you give birth in hospital, your hospital midwife will not be able to stay by your side for all of your labour. And your partner might feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to really help you, and need some extra support himself/herself. A doula can work together with your partner, and is actually there to support both you.
Many hospitals follow a policy of allowing only one labour supporter, i.e. including the birth partner. However, the Belgian KCE Guideline to low risk birth advocates the presence of another person (professional or otherwise) if the couple wish.
Ask your hospital about their policy. Some may ask that you inform them in advance if another person will be present, and may provide you with paperwork to complete.
What does the research say?
A 2013 Cochrane review of 22 separate randomised control trials (involving a total of over 15,000 women) showed that women with continuous birth support were:
- more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth
- more likely to be satisfied with the birth experience
- less likely to have an epidural
- less likely to have a caesarean birth or need forceps or ventouse during vaginal birth
The review also found that "continuous support was most effective when the provider was neither a medical professional nor the woman's social network", leading to two further benefits:
- shorter labours; and
- higher five-minute Apgar scores (a test used to assess your baby's well-being in the first 5 minutes after birth)
While doulas are not yet so common in Belgium, Flemish-speaking and French-speaking doulas have their own associations, through which you can find a doula - many of whom also speak English.
Get in touch with a doula to find out if she serves your area and which languages she speaks.
Association francophone des doulas de Belgique – francophone association of Belgian doulas
http://doulas.be/wp/trouver-sa-doula/ (in French; possible to search for doulas in Brussels and Wallonia, by region)
Vlaamse Federatie van Doula’s – Flemish doula federation
https://doulasite.be/vind%20een%20doula/index.html (in Dutch; possible to search for doulas in Flanders)
You may also be able to find a doula:
- by asking friends, colleagues, acquaintances - if you're a member of the BCT, ask your local group
- by asking your independent midwife
- Belgians Julie Denil and Sophie Fraschina run So Cocoon. They offer a whole range of birth-related services, in English and French.
Because they have lived as expats, they know the feeling you can experience being a far from home, especially during the particular time of pregnancy and early parenthood.
Hodnett, E., Gates, S., Hofmeyr, G., Sakala C., (2012) Continuous support for women during childbirth [Systematic Review]. Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews [Online]. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23076901 [Accessed 30 July 2013]