When dolphins give birth, the mother is surrounded by a small group of females who swim in circles around her whilst she births her calf. A little further away, the rest of the pod’s female contingency form another circle, and then outside of them, the males provide a final protective layer. In this way the whole community works to protect the mother, providing a safe place for her to give birth. They have not been taught this but know from instinct that birth requires a female to be protected.
Human mothers need the same treatment, yet all too often this is sadly lacking. Instead of forming a protective circle, a labouring woman is often subject to overt scrutiny, surrounded by an army of strangers all trying to control her experience. Instead of feeling private and secure as she should do, a woman often feels observed and unsupported, with machines left to do the work that should be undertaken by a loving birth partner.
Yet as so often is the case, science proves animal instinct right. We are, for the purposes of birth, less removed from our mammalian roots than we think. Studies show that if a woman is continually cared for by someone - even a stranger- her birth tends to be shorter ( often up to 25% shorter), she has significantly less need for pain relief, her chances of having a caesarean are dramatically reduced ( in 7 trials by 60%) and her experience of labour is much more positive. Additionally, babies tend to be born in better condition, success at breastfeeding is higher and bonding is improved.
For many women, the baby’s father is the perfect birth partner. He can act as the buffer between a woman and her environment, shielding her physically and emotionally so that she can lose herself to the process of birth. It is also an extraordinary time for a man, whi is becoming a father and many men truly want to be by their partner and babies side. But just because our culture now expects fathers to be there, doesn’t mean that they are the only option, nor that they should be. All too often a reticent father is in the delivery room when he would rather be in the pub! And a reticent father is worse than no one at all.
If a father is unsure that he wants to be there, or even if a couple simply feels the need for extra support then a doula is a wonderful option. Doula’s are experienced and qualified birth partners who stay by the woman’s side throughout the entirety of her birth. They can work in any environment - birth, home or both- and have the necessary experience and understanding to make a fundamental difference to a woman’s experience of labour. She needn’t take a father’s place, but can be alongside him, freeing him up from responsibility and allowing him to simply be a part of the process of becoming a family. All the evidence is that a doula has a positively transformative effect on a woman’s labour and womn who have laboured with doula’s report to having been more relaxed throughout the course of their labours. One woman went so far as to proclaim her doula the equivalent to a guardian angel. For more information or to find a doula in your area go to www.doula.org.uk