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 in Belgium, this may depend on your choice of care provider and place of birth) and the postnatal period.
Most doulas are mothers (or even grandmothers) 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 a doula by your side can bring a great deal of comfort and reassurance, whatever stage you are at in your journey. And most doulas are happy to support you in all kinds of situations, including:
- pre-conception, before you even start trying to conceive
- trying to conceive (including after a loss)
- having difficulty conceiving
- undergoing fertility treatment
- loss of a baby
- elective termination
- pregnancy, including birth preparation
- labour and birth (see below)
- postpartum period
A doula is a companion that can provide emotional support at a time when you may find yourself far from friends and family, in a country where it may be challenging to navigate the system and understand where to turn.
Having continuous support during labour 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.
However, 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.
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)
Many hospitals still 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.
While doulas are not yet so common in Belgium, the following doulas various kinds of support and services in English:
- Greek mum and grandmother Yana Ardittis runs Good Morning Life (website currently only in French, but Yana also speaks English) offers doula services at whatever stage you are at, from pre-conception through to the post-natal period, and at any time in between. She works in the Brussels area.
- Tazneem Twells offers "doula services for every life transition" though Full Spectrum Journeys. She is American, a qualified OB-GYN nurse and IBCLC lactation consultant, and works in English, French, Spanish and Italian. Tazneem works in the greater Brussels area.
- South-African mum Callen Gerrits is a hypnobirthing practitioner and doula who serves the Turnhout area through Gentle Welcome. She also offers virtual consults and support to families all over the world.
- American Allison Tolman runs New Little Life, offering doula services in SHAPE and in Mons and surrounding areas.
- Belgians Julie Denil and Sophie Fraschina run So Cocoon. They offer a whole range of birth-related services, in English and French. They work in the Jodoigne area.
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.
Flemish-speaking and French-speaking doulas have their own associations, through which you can find a doula, and many of these doulas will 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
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]