How to Hold Space for Birth

By Katie Manitsas

The Support of Doulas

As a doula or childbirth support person, I have had the great joy of watching many babies come into the world.  Staff such as midwives and doctors have an enormous pressure on them in terms of medical outcomes but the wonderful thing about being a doula is that my main job is to hold the emotional space and nurture the birthing mother.  Together we may navigate decision making in the medical arena but for the most part the doula’s role is in the realm of feelings.

A doula is a childbirth support person, someone who is not medically trained who holds space for a woman’s birthing experience and may also support her partner to support her.  In Australia the need for doula’s is growing as more women realise the value both emotionally and in terms of birthing outcomes (reduced intervention rates, better postnatal wellbeing) and emotional and mental health of having a consistent and reliable support person present for the birth-day of their baby.

Continuity of Care

Women who hire a doula report that the continuity of care is one of the most valuable elements of having support in labour.  Most women in Australia give birth in a hospital environment where the care providers (midwives and obstetricians) are subject to shift change and may be unknown to the birthing mother or on high rotation during her birthing experience.  Having a doula present who knows the birthing plan and can hold space for a woman’s emotional experience is an empowering and reassuring decision for many women. 

Many women carry some fear around childbirth into the experience of labour and a doula can help with offering both practical support such as pain management suggestions and emotional support such as working through fear.  What we are told by our mothers and grandmothers about birth creates part of the ancestral patterning that we take into childbirth and this can bring up a whole range of emotions such as fear or excitement.  A doula is trained in supporting a woman in these strong emotions and helping her in labour to have the best experience possible.

The World of Motherhood

As well as being present at the birth a doula can also work postnatally, supporting a new mother and her family as she transitions into the world of motherhood.  As author Heng Ou writes in her wonderful book The First Forty Days it is often the immediately postnatal period of time which is most challenging and it is also during this time that outcomes around post-natal depression and other challenges new mother’s face are solidified.  Support and encouragement at this critical window are imperative for new mums:

Form your crew of helping hands before the baby is born, so that the infamous ‘baby brain’ won’t cloud your ability to think rationally.  In the early days with a newborn it’s strangely easy to forget who your friends are and feel unnecessarily isolated.  Early preparation also gives your helpers time to gear up and get organised.

New mums will often need help with things like cooking, cleaning and babycare but also may more crucially need a non-judgemental shoulder to cry on and a supportive listening ear.  This is where the post-natal doula can really do her best work.

In an ideal world we’d all be surrounded by the ‘village’ that’s needed to raise a child and for families to thrive, however for many of us in our contemporary culture that sense of community is eroded.  Support services such as hiring a doula can go a long way towards filling those gaps enabling parents to have a positive, heart-opening and supportive emergence into their new lives as a family.  

Katie Manitsas is a doula and prenatal yoga teacher.She teaches at the Australian Doula College and runs trainings for yoga teachers on pregnancy related topics as well as a pregnancy yoga and doula training.