Doulas - providing a support network for families during life transitions
Doulas have provided support for families throughout history, gaining popularity throughout the 1960s and 1980s.
Megan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is said to have had one at the births of her two children Archie and Lilibet.
Aimee Felus, a doula from Petworth, explained: “Doulas provide help and support to families with life transitions, such as becoming new parents or increasing your family.
“We are non-judgmental as we give evidence based information to help families.
“We don’t replace midwives as we aren’t medically trained, and while some doulas aren’t trained I have undertaken training and CPD, there is also a mentoring programme to help expand our knowledge we can impart to families.”
There are different types of doula - pregnancy, birthing and postnatal, some do all three stages, others only one or two and each usually has a speciality be it hypnobirthing, breast feeding support or massage.
Trudi Dawson, who runs Mothering Mojo, said: “Hiring a doula shouldn’t be seen as some kind of hippy pre-requisite or middle-class luxury.
“As a species we work better when we have a close and supportive community, when we share knowledge and look after each other.
“So much of birth and postnatal has been medicalised, for very good reason, but we’ve lost the art of raising a child with a metaphorical village and that’s what a doula can provide.”
Trudi lives in Heathfield, East Sussex and has been a postnatal doula specialising in breastfeeding support since 2007, she previously worked in advertising in London.
She said: “ I felt unprepared and disappointed in my first birth. Postnatal anxiety and a really tough first year followed.
“When I was asked to support my brother and his wife’s first birth I saw a completely different side to birth and breastfeeding. That it could actually be a wonderful experience, that sound preparation and good, continuous support made all the difference.
“To note, however, this does not necessarily mean a ‘natural’ birth - it’s not how you birth your baby, necessarily, or how you feed them, but how you feel about how you birth your baby and the choices you have after that’s the big game changer.”
Trudi is also a qualified yoga teacher, and teaches pregnancy yoga, postnatal yoga and pelvic floor recovery classes.
She added: “As if that wasn’t enough, I’m also now a qualified FEDANT-registered antenatal teacher and holistic sleep coach, so I can hold your hand from the minute you get pregnant right up until the first birthday.”
Aimee is a mum of two and a postnatal doula. She first became aware of doulas when she supported her sister in labour 15 years ago at home and the midwife commented that Aimee should consider becoming one.
She said: “I just didn’t think about it and then when I had my first child six years ago I had family close by and a good support network but it was still hard and I just thought ‘it shouldn’t be like this’. The idea just grew from there.”
Eastbourne’s Emma Draper qualified as a birth doula in February and is currently going through the mentoring process.
She said: “I believe every woman should have the right to a doula.
“I enjoy every aspect of being a doula and I think pregnant women are amazing and I feel honoured to be able to help them with their journey.
“I also enjoy photography and managed to get some beautiful shots of my first client when she was pregnant.”
The World Health Organisation recommended in 2019 that every birthing woman should have a doula.
However at the moment due to current Covid restrictions many pregnant woman are only allowed one birthing partner, this is something doula Roma Hearsey hopes changes soon.
She said: “Many people are being denied doula support, due to single birth partner restrictions,” she said.
“Doulas really do help facilitate better birth experiences. As the quote goes ‘if a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it’.”
Roma explains that she has always been fascinated by birth - how there is always more to learn, how misunderstood it seems to be generally and how misrepresented it can be in TV and film.
Roma, who lives Southease near Brighton, is a birth and postnatal doula and a mentor.
She has been a doula since 2010 and trained with Dr Michel Odent a midwife, obstetrician, author, and inventor of water birth.
She said: “My clients have often had a previous c section or traumatic birth.
“I love watching a couple bloom in confidence through their pregnancy and totally rock their birth.
“I love the amazing team of home birth midwives I work alongside. I love supporting clients with their newborn and settling into their expanded family life.”
Roma specialises in home birth, teaches KG Hypnobirthing and is a Spinning Babies Certified Parent Educator, this means she teaches pregnant people about balance, gravity and movement, and making them aware of where the baby is and how to best prepare your body for labour, including resolving malpositions.
Shirley Stump has been a birth doula since 2014 and prior to that was a hypnobirth teacher.
The Fernhurst resident said: “Our birth experiences impact our life, especially the postnatal period, feeding journey and those early years transitioning to a parent or a parent of more children.
“A positive birth experience is empowering and life changing. I feel it’s very important to help guide my clients to become fully informed of their birth choices and options so they can decide on what feels right for them and prepare for all kinds of birth.”
“So no matter how their baby is born they feel fully supported, informed and have a positive experience.”
Shirley also specialises in birth preparation, Reiki, birth rewind technique for birth trauma, closing ceremony abdominal massage, Indian Head Massage, breastfeeding support and sound healing.
She said: “I feel it’s such a privilege to support a birthing person and their partner with such a private and life changing event.”
After a difficult postnatal experience Victoria Greenly, from Easebourne in West Sussex, left her job as a TV producer and director to become a doula eight years ago.
She said: “Doulas can be an extra pair of hands, a sounding board and a knowledgeable person to guide and support after birth.
“One of my clients told me ‘I saved her sanity’ and it’s so rewarding when the postnatal period becomes enjoyable rather than stressful.”
Offering postnatal support Victoria helps families with sessions on specific topics such as responsive routines and baby sleep and is an infant feeding counsellor.
With a number of doulas across East and West Sussex Aimee says it is important to find one that is the right fit for your family.
She said: “It is important to meet with a few doulas and find one you click with, and we sometimes recommend other doulas if we think they may be a better fit,” she said.
“No one should feel like they are struggling. There is a doula for everyone.”
You can contact the doula’s mentioned here: