Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What does a doula do?

This past Sunday, at the "Yeah, Baby!" expo in Syracuse, NY, I was asked the question over and over... "What does a doula do?"

The short answer is that a birth doula is a trained labor assistant who does whatever the laboring mother or her family needs during the birth of their baby and a postpartum doula is a woman who helps the new family make the transition to parenthood or eases the entry of the next baby into the family.

Often, people will assume that they don't need a doula because their partner will be at the birth or because they have family around who can help after the baby is born. I'm thinking, perhaps, that this is because doulas are still a relatively new thing and people don't see how a doula could help them.

When I'm with a family at their birth, there is a lot that I do. I provide information, about the birth process, about the different birth options, about comfort measures and what has helped other moms. I remind them that they are a customer, a consumer, who is paying for a service from the hospital, midwife or doctor. In doing that, I hope to empower them to make informed choices and feel that the are in control. Physically, I'm there to hold their hands, rub backs and feet, tell them that they can do this and that they will make it through.

Most importantly, I'm there continuously. From the time that they call me to tell me "it's time," I stay with them. While your doctor or midwife might have other moms in labor or office hours to attend to, your doula just has you.

At the birth of Ben, our fourth baby, I had two student midwives who served as doulas for me. They walked with me, spent time with us, rubbed my back, kept getting me drinks, went to the snowball stand for me and made suggestions like using the shower for relief during transition and stayed after the birth to make sure we were settled in. Even though Ben was my fourth baby, my fourth natural birth and I was having him at home, their support made my birth experience better.

If anyone didn't "need" a doula, it was me. I had this birth thing under control. I was a seasoned pro. Having them there made the atmosphere more relaxed and peaceful. His birth really was an enjoyable time for me. Having a doula at your birth can enhance your the birth experience for you.

DONA International shares about studies on doulas and birth:

So if you're in Syracuse, NY or the surrounding areas and are looking for a doula to attend your birth, feel free to email me at to set up a free consultation.

Friday, September 24, 2010

In all my free time...

When I'm not at doula network meetings, meeting with clients, attending births, getting ready for the "Yeah, Baby!" expo or wasting time at, I'm probably reading. I've always loved reading. It's less strenuous than housecleaning and less boring than sleeping.

The books on the shelf in the picture are my small collection of books about doula-ing, midwifery, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. On the shelves pictured: I've got:

The Doula Book
The Doula Advantage
The Birth Partner
Special Women
Nurturing the Family: The Guide for Postpartum Doulas
MotherTouch DVD
Gentle Birth Choices DVD
Healthy Birth Your Way DVD
Giving Birth DVD
The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth
Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn
Midwifery & Childbirth in America
Paths to Becoming a Midwife
Spiritual Midwifery
Sisters on a Journey: Portraits of American Midwives
Baby Catcher
Giving Birth by Catherine Taylor
Vaginal Politics: A Midwife's Story
Diary of a Midwife by Juliana van Olphen-Fehr
Heart & Hands: A Midwife's Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Elizabeth Davis
Birthsong Midwifery Workbook
Active Birth by Janet Balaskas
Mother's Intention: How Belief Shapes Birth
Childbirth Without Fear by Grantley Dick-Read
Husband-Coached Childbirth by Robert Bradley
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way
Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper
Immaculate Decpetion II by Suzanne Arms
Birthing From Within
The Baby Book by Sears
The Breastfeeding Book by Sears
The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers
Nursing Mother, Working Mother
Mothering Multiples
Old issues of Midwifery Today
Binder from DONA training
And that's not even counting the ones that I have out from the ICAN library and the public library, and my own books that are in other parts of my house that didn't make it into the picture. This October will make it ten years and eight months that I've been reading voraciously about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, nutrition, positive discipline and homeschooling. Ever since I found out I was pregnant with my oldest, I've made a study of childbearing and rearing.
My first doula client (who ended up being the third birth I attended) was someone I met when I was reading The Doula Book on the elliptical machine at the YMCA. She asked me if I was a doula, I told her that I was working on my DONA certification and I ended up getting to attend her birth. The important lesson I learned that day was "Take the Doula Books to Public Places." Now, whenever I get a new one, I read it at the Y.
The benefit to my clients, I believe, is that when they hire me, they're hiring someone who's probably read the answer to their question somewhere and even has that book to lend them. I have a working library both in my head and on my shelf.
Today, I added to my collection when a member of the Syracuse Attachment Parenting yahoo group listed a bunch of books for sale. She had been considering a career in midwifery and I guess it just didn't work out that way. I hope she'll know that her books are going to be well-loved and read over and over again.
One of the books I got today was Diary of a Midwife by Juliana van Olphen-Fehr. I'm planning to start reading it sometime tonight, so look for a review here in the next couple of days.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Getting Baby Into Position

While my 9 year old and 7 year old were in their swim lessons at the YMCA today, I was sitting on the bleachers reading a copy Optimal Foetal Positioning that I have out on loan from the Syracuse ICAN chapter. A lot of it was things that I'd heard before, having taken the Bradley childbirth classes when I was pregnant with my second.

One thing I hadn't remembered though, was that the cervix actually needs to open wider than 10cm to properly accomodate a posterior baby. With an anterior baby (facing mom's spine) the presenting part of the baby's head is 9.5cm and with a posterior baby (facing mom's front), the presenting part of the head that needs to get through the cervix is 11.5cm. Now, a cervix can and will stretch much more than the 10cm that we hear about in the childbirth classes, but it sounds to me like this may be one of the reasons that pushing out a posterior baby can take more time.

Additionally, moms who go into labor with a posterior baby often report having increased back pain, known as "back labor." This can be a challenge to cope with.

Optimal Foetal Positioning talks a lot about posture and the fact that how we go about our daily routines, things like the way we sit and the kinds of furniture we use, can affect the positions of the babies we carry.

The following video clip talks about what moms can do during pregnancy (before labor begins) to encourage their baby into an anterior postition:

During pregnancy, I'd also recommend that moms see a chiropractor who is trained in and experienced with the Webster technique. The ICPA has this to say:  "The Webster Technique is a specific chiropractic analysis and adjustment that reduces interference to the nerve system and balances maternal pelvic muscles and ligaments. This in turn reduces torsion in the uterus, a cause of intra-uterine constraint of the baby and allows for optimal fetal positioning in preparation for birth."

If you are in labor and find that your baby is posterior, there are things you can do to encourage him or her to get into a better postion:

  • Walk up and down stairs, sideways if possible
  • Try an Abdominal Lift during contractions
  • Do chair lunges (with a partner for support)
  • Lean forward over a birth ball
  • Sit on the toilet with one foot raised on a stool
One reason to have a doula, both during the actual labor and talking to your doula in the weeks leading up to birth, is that a well-educated doula will have this information. She can offer you information on getting your baby into the best position for birth before you actually go into labor and she can help you work with your body while you're in labor so that you're using the most effective positions to help your baby descend through the birth canal.

If you're in Syracuse, New York or nearby and have questions about how a doula can help you, feel free to email me at

Friday, September 17, 2010

How do you do it?

In past blog posts, I've mentioned that I have four children who I homeschool. That would be on top of working 15-40 hours a week (depending on the week). Usually when people ask me how I do it, I give the obvious answer, "not sleeping." The truth is that it actually takes more coordination and organization than that, but I'm trying to avoid talking about the amount of work that I put into my life.

This week, my work schedule looked like this:

Monday 12-2pm: Prepare for panel tomorrow; email donors about "Yeah, Baby!"
Tuesday 6-9pm @ Birth Plan Panel at Dewitt Community Library
Wednesday 8:30-11:30am CNY Breastfeeding Connection meeting, 6:30pm-12 CNY Doula Connection mtg
Thursday 9-9:30am Work emails, 10:30-11:45am Mtg w/new client
Friday 12:30-1:30pm Picked up donation. 2:30-3pm Online work (emails, website, etc).

My kids' scheduled activities looked like this:

Monday 9:30am 5yo speech therapy @ school, 11am 5yo Doctor's Appt.
Wednesday 9:30am 5yo speech therapy @ school, 2pm Homeschool PE class at YMCA for 9yo, 7yo and 5yo
Thursday 1pm Homeschool Group Activity, 5pm swim lessons for 9yo and 7yo
Friday 9:30am 5yo speech therapy @ school

In between all of those things, I've done all of the homeschooling with them, the math, language arts, history, science, Bible, Spanish... I also have to do the normal everyday mom things, like, dress kids, brush kids' teeth, give vitamins, read to kids, try to get 3 yo to use potty, bug kids to clean up toys, get short kid a cup from the cabinet, get the little kids the PlayDoh...

All of this works out because of 1) a patient, accomodating husband, 2) a long list of babysitters and 3) extremely flexible, well-behaved children. It's far from easy and coordinating having children with a job that has non-traditional hours has taken time. I'm still figuring out what works for us and what activities are really worth doing.

Months ago, a friend from Baltimore asked me on the phone if I had subscribed to Working Mother magazine yet and I said that I wasn't "that" mom. I didn't think of myself as a working mom. I was still looking at myself as a stay at home mom who had a part-time job. Over the past couple months, I've started to realize that that's no longer the case. I am a working mom who homeschools her children. While my husband does most of the childcare because of of weird schedule, we do also have childcare help.

Being a doula and a homeschooling mom is tough, and I'm not giving up either role.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Come on out tonight!

Tonight at seven o'clock, I will be on a birth planning panel discussion at the Dewitt Community Library, located in Shoppingtown Mall. You do need to call the library to register if you're interested in attending.

The Eagle Bulletin has this to say:

"Hospitals now compete to see who can provide the most user-friendly birth suites, some with whirlpool baths, wallpaper and interior decorating. Fathers and families are now an integral part of the birthing process, complete with video cameras.

Having a birth plan has been seen as a helpful way for the mother to stay in touch with her needs from labor and delivery to bringing her child home. It’s also a way to coordinate family and medical service providers on delivery day.

One local service provider, Elizabeth Baer, is a DONA-trained birth doula who attends births in Syracuse and the surrounding area. Owner of Natural Parenting Support Services, Cicero, and a founding member of the CNY Doula Connection,, she has four children and has studied pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding extensively.

Baer will be part of a special Planning Your Birth Plan panel discussion on from 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 14 at the DeWitt Community Library, ShoppingTown Mall, Entrance No. 3 in DeWitt. Free and open to the public, the discussion will be followed by an opportunity for questions. Light refreshment and door prizes will be provided by"