Saturday 17 March 2018

'Mothers who have a doula have a better outcome' - Why Irish women are embracing the 'birth companion' trend

Studies have shown that a 'birth companion' can reduce caesarean rates and length of labour, and now Irish women are embracing the trend

Sile Seoige
Sile Seoige
Helping hand: Jen Crawford
Doulas can help with breastfeeding

Arlene Harris

After just giving birth to her first child with partner Damian O'Farrell, broadcaster Síle Seoige has said she is enjoying the "pure magic" of being a mother.

An advocate of 'natural birthing', the 35-year-old sought the assistance of a doula, which loosely translated from Greek means 'caregiver of women'.

Writing in her online baby diary, Seoige revealed the decision was due to studies which showed that having a doula as a member of the birth team can decrease the overall caesarean rate, length of labour, use of oxytocin and requests for an epidural.

As the movement to de-medicalise childbirth continues to grow, the presence of a doula either during pregnancy, delivery or after baby has arrived is becoming increasingly popular in Ireland, with many women opting for assistance throughout the whole process.

Guidance: Doula Jen Crawford with Lisa Murrin, Dave Kennedy and their twins. Photo: Frank McGrath
Guidance: Doula Jen Crawford with Lisa Murrin, Dave Kennedy and their twins. Photo: Frank McGrath

Lisa Murrin and her partner Dave have just welcomed twin boys, Noah and Dylan. As both parents work full time (he as a school teacher and she as head of operations in a family catering business), having another pair of capable hands to help with the new arrivals was essential.

"When we discovered we were having twins, we knew we would need some sort of home help," says Lisa (29).

"Through the Rotunda, we were given Jen Crawford's information and within minutes of calling her, we knew doula care was for us as, from the outset, her calm nature made everything easy.

"She came to our house and we spent a full day going through the lead up to birth, the birth itself and the post-partum.

"This was invaluable as we learnt so much about what to expect and our rights as parents in making decisions throughout the birthing process."

Lisa, who lives in Clontarf, Co Dublin, found the personal care much better than being in a large antenatal group - and throughout her pregnancy, was in constant contact with her doula.

Helping hand: Jen Crawford
Helping hand: Jen Crawford

But it was just after her babies were born that Jen's presence proved invaluable when it became clear that getting them to feed was a very difficult process.

"I came home 30 hours after the birth and immediately we knew, once again, that we had made the right decision in having a doula," she says. "Our aim on the first night was to get the boys to latch together as I wanted to be able to feed them at the same time so we could get into a routine from the word go. But Dylan had jaundice and Noah wasn't feeding, so myself, Dave, Jen and the boys spent nine hours together and eventually we got them both latching.

"Jen answered the million questions we had and I can safely say that without her advice and knowledge our experience would have been radically different."

Over the course of the next week, Lisa's doula visited every other day to ensure everything was going to plan and after 10 days, when she was happy the new family had established a routine, reduced her time to once a week for three to four hours at a time.

The babies are now seven weeks old and the new mum says hiring a doula has been the best decision she has made so far.

"While it's not cheap, it was worth its weight in gold and gave our new family the best start we could have hoped for," says Lisa.

Doula services start at around €900, but Jen says this affords new mothers a huge amount of help and comfort.

"The wonderful thing about a doula is that they are a constant support," she says. "They are a listening ear, a wealth of evidence-based, non-biased information and the one familiar face in all the comings and goings of the busy hospital as our shift only ends after baby arrives - so we're there as long as it takes.

"Often a mum will say that my presence was very important as it helped them stay calm and relaxed. A doula is with you 100pc and knows your wishes - that peace of mind and continuity of care is invaluable in my opinion." The full-time doula says while midwives undoubtedly do a wonderful job, they are over-stretched.

"We are very lucky to have amazing midwives in Ireland, but our maternity services are understaffed," she says. "In most cases, women don't get to meet their midwife ahead of time, which is a pity as it's so lovely when they do.

"Instead some women see many staff throughout their pregnancy and will usually have more than one midwife during the birth. But a recent Cochrane review (2017) has yet again confirmed that women and babies have improved outcomes if a woman is accompanied by a trained doula - as well as their birth partner."

Tracy Donegan, a trained midwife and founder of, agrees.

"The most recent evidence is very clear - mothers who have a trained doula with them in labour have better outcomes, are less likely to need an epidural and more likely to breastfeed," she says. "Doula care also significantly reduces the risk of having a caesarean. Having continuous support, right from that first contraction at home through to the first hours after birth, is an essential part. And it's important to note that no hospital in Ireland provides continuous care for every woman - midwives leave when their shift is over and if mum is admitted in early labour, she is left alone with her partner to cope with minimum support on a busy antenatal ward."

Donegan is one of the few certified doula trainers in Ireland, and explains: "The hands-on training, where they learn the physical comfort measures, is usually over a two-day workshop. Before attending the workshop, doulas also take a six-week online mindfulness for birth professionals training course and will have completed a reading list and assessments.

"After attendance at the workshop, the doula has to provide three evaluations from mothers from three births the doula has supported. An important aspect of the training and certification is the evaluations that are submitted by the midwives/consultants that the doula worked with. This ensures professionalism and collaboration with care providers."

She advises women to choose their doula wisely. "Post-partum doulas are gaining popularity in Ireland, but as the profession is unregulated, I recommend choosing one who is a member of a professional body in Ireland, such as the Irish Doula Association."

To learn more, visit or

Doulas: everything you need to know

Doula measuring baby bump

* A doula is an experienced non-medical birth companion who provides continuous physical and emotional support before, during and after labour. 

* A doula will have undertaken formal training with a doula organisation and are often mothers themselves.

* The role involves discussing birth options, offering support during pregnancy, labour and after the baby is born.

* Support during labour can be ensuring mum has enough to eat and drink, offering breaks to partner, providing massage or acupressure or just listening to concerns and helping to find solutions.

Doulas can help with breastfeeding

* After delivery, support can include help with feeding, sleeping and getting used to looking after a new baby.

* The cost of doula services start from €900.

Irish Independent

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