Doulas - helping to support families with 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 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 of it, others parts and each usually has a specialty be it hypnobirthing, breast feeding support or massage.
Aimee is a mum of two and a postnatal doula. It first started when she supported her sister when she was 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.’
“As a species we aren’t meant to be bringing up children at home alone, throughout history children have been brought up in a group with different generations imparting their knowledge and skills. The idea just grew from there.”
The World Health Organisation recommended in 2019 that every birthing woman should have a doula.
Shirley Stump has been a birth doula since 2014 and prior to that was a hypnobirth teacher.
She said: “I decided to train as a doula as I am passionate about helping people to have a positive birth no matter how their babies are born.
“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.
“I just love every single thing about it especially meeting different people and supporting the choices they make.
“Every family and birth journey I support are so individual and that's what makes this work so interesting.”
With a number of doulas across Sussex Aimee says it is important to find one that is the right fit for your family.
“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.
Victoria Greenly, from Easebourne, has been a doula for eight years.
She said: “Before I birthed my daughter, I was a TV producer/director but after my own difficult postnatal experience, I realised that many new parents are not being supported in a way that gives them a positive postnatal period.
“Doulas can be an extra pair of hands, a sounding board and a knowledgeable person to guide and support after birth.”
Offering postnatal support Victoria helps families with sessions on specific topics such as responsive routines and baby sleep and is an infant feeding counsellor.
For postnatal doulas the time with the family can vary depending on the need, from six months to longer.
In the future Aimee would love to set up an association to help families for free and offer a broad spectrum of services for families in need such as baby loss support and mental health awareness.
She said: “No one should feel like they are struggling.
“There is a doula for everyone.”
Shirley - Facebook.com/ShirleyStumpBirthSupport