There may be a lot about birth that we cannot control but there is still a lot we can. As a doula, you can support your client in making informed choices for a better birth. The care provider your client chooses, their awareness of birth options, and their birth location can greatly impact the birth experience.
Encouraging your client to be an active participant in the birth planning process often allows for positive experiences regardless of how labor unfolds.
Here are ten steps to encourage your clients to take to have a better birth:
#1: Research Birth Options For A Better Birth
Options can vary slightly based on your location. Encourage clients to research what birth options are available in their area so they are making fully informed choices. Are there freestanding birth centers? Multiple hospitals with maternity care? Are there home birth providers?
Encourage your clients to ask their friends and family about their birth experiences in different locations. You can point them to a variety of books and evidenced based websites to really learn about all their birthing options.
#2: Interview Different Midwives And OB/GYNs
Many clients choose a provider based on convenient locations, recommendations from friends, or just the regular gynecology provider they had previously seen once a year. While there is nothing inherently wrong with choosing for those reasons, it is helpful to ensure a provider is open to the desired birthing options.
People give birth best where and with whomever they feel safest. If they are uncomfortable with a provider, it can impact how their labor unfolds.
Encourage clients to ask lots of questions and ensure they are choosing a provider they are truly comfortable with.
#3: Read, Listen To, And Learn About Positive Birth Experiences
There’s something about being pregnant which makes people want to share their negative and scary birth experiences with you. Clients are often faced with scary birth stories and dramatized births in the media.
Encourage your client to read about positive birth experiences. Point them to positive social media, books, and other sources of positive birth stories.
While birth can be traumatic, that should be the exception and not the rule. Help them frame a positive connection with their upcoming birth. We cannot control all aspects of labor. However, when we are prepared and feeling positive, we can reduce the fear-tension-pain cycle many experience during birth.
#4: Encourage Good Communication About Birth Preferences
Whether your client chooses to make a written birth plan or not, encourage them to think about and communicate their birth preferences. Discussing birth preferences with their support person, doula, and healthcare providers will help them be an active participant in their care while ensuring people know how to best support them.
Even if they do not plan to provide others with a written plan, the process of creating a birth plan or birth preference list can aid in communicating their desires with others.
#5: Make An Educated Choice About Birth Location For A Better Birth
After researching as mentioned in the first step, encourage clients to make a truly informed decision about their birth location. Most clients default to a hospital birth. Hospital births can be wonderful, and at times needed. However, it is important to help clients make fully informed decisions.
Researching birth location options can help them become more confident in their chosen location, or they may choose to birth elsewhere after learning more. Even if they know they want a hospital or home birth, they should ensure they are picking providers and facilities they are truly comfortable with.
C-section, intervention, etc. stats can vary significantly at different hospitals. Some families may want a facility with a level 3 or 4 NICU so there’s little to no risk of transfer in the event of an emergency. Others may want a home birth but with their second or third interviewed midwife.
Encourage clients to be active participants in the decision-making process versus simply defaulting to a convenient location or what they feel is expected of them.
#6: Encourage Clients To Take A Comprehensive Childbirth Class
If you are a birth doula, encourage your clients to take a truly comprehensive childbirth class. As a doula, you can provide wonderful information, but there is more to learn than you are able to provide in the standard two prenatal visits.
If you are also a childbirth educator, encourage them to take one of your classes or offer private sessions as an additional service.
When clients know what to expect in the birth process, as well as potential variables, they are more likely to have a positive experience. There is a lot to be said for the fear of the unknown and how that can make a typical birth feel extra traumatic.
#7: Help Clients Build Confidence
In addition to listening to positive birth experiences as mentioned above, you can help your clients build overall confidence in birth. Teach your clients about positive affirmations, mindfulness, and other techniques to build their confidence in giving birth.
Having a better birth is often easier when a client is confident. Being confident can help them overcome any difficult moments during birth, with support of course.
#8: Support Clients As They Build Their Birthing Team
If you’re their doula, they’ve already begun building their birthing team. However, they may still have additional decisions to make for a better birth. Will their parents be present? Friends? Will they feel “watched” and labor slow if they have additional support people around?
Help them understand hormones in labor and the impact extra people can have on the birth experience. Remind them of their patient’s rights in terms of any medical students and such being present.
#9: Teach Them B.R.A.I.N.
A simple way to help your clients have open communication with their provider is to use the B.R.A.I.N. acronym. Rather than simply saying yes or no to something, they are communicating and being an active participant in the decision-making process.
Benefits – What are the benefits to me? Baby?
Risks – What are the risks to me? Baby?
Alternatives – What alternatives exist?
Intuition – What is my gut feeling?
Nothing – What happens if we do nothing right now?
This simple acronym can be a simple script to encourage open communication with their providers. It can be used prenatally, during labor, and even with making decisions for their baby. Being active in decision making through clear communication can make for a much better birth experience.
#10: Final Step – Welcome Baby!
Welcome Baby! While we cannot control all of labor, clients can feel better about situations when they know they actively participated and were heard and respected. This quote from Janet Balaskas sums this up very well:
“By deciding to have an active birth you will be reclaiming your fundamental power as a birth-giver, a mother, and a woman. You will be giving your baby the best possible start in life and a safe transition from the womb to the world. Should any unusual difficulty or complication arise, you will be free to make use of the safety net of modern obstetric care, knowing that you have done your very best and also knowing that this is your choice, and that intervention was really necessary. In this way, even the most difficult birth can be a positive experience.”