Pregnant women are among the many people whose lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19. And contrary to what you may have heard, pandemic doula care is still considered a safe and vital element to healthy birth outcomes. It’s not just prenatal care that’s been impacted. The pandemic has also upended labor and birth practices, especially within the hospital setting, where visitor limitations are being strictly enforced.
Many expectant mothers choose to have a doula by their side throughout pregnancy, during childbirth and even into the postpartum period. Doulas customize their care to meet individual women’s needs, customs, prior life experiences and identities — all of which can be incredibly helpful and comforting as you find your own early-parenting footing.
In the midst of the pandemic, what do all the changes in the L&D and postpartum wards mean for doula care?
It may not feel worth it to pay a doula if they can’t head to the hospital with you. But hands-on support is only a small part of what a doula can offer. Doulas have resources, community, and education at their fingertips; they can coach your support person who will be with you during birth; and most importantly, they can provide invaluable emotional support throughout.
I sat down with Bay Area doula, Meghan Murphy, to learn about her recent experiences and the changes to pandemic doula care. If you were considering or are interested in doula support, know that it is still available to you, albeit in some new and different ways.
Here are some options to consider:
1. If you’re giving birth in a hospital that only allows one support person per laboring parent, you may consider bringing your doula along instead of your partner.
Currently, three out of eight of Meghan’s clients have chosen her to accompany them to the hospital — rather than their partners. This is not only a testament to the incredible support a doula provides, but also — as Meghan shares — a plausible solution to the problem of securing last-minute care for older children. (As if it weren’t difficult enough beforehand, in the midst of social distancing and shelter-in-place regulations, it’s all the more complicated trying to coordinate help with older children, one of the key elements of preparing for baby #2.)
2. Your doula can provide support at your home before heading to the hospital.
If you labor as long as possible at home, your doula can be by your side for the beginning stages; she can keep you comfortable and focused while coaching your labor partner, who will be accompanying you to the hospital.
Birth doulas are preparing care packages of helpful birth and postpartum items. For example, Meghan’s portable doula kits include a TENS unit, essential oils, an eye mask, ear plugs, fairy lights, heat packs, honey sticks, and birth affirmations to hang around the room. Personally, if you’re going to be laboring at home with your partner for a while, I’d recommend picking up The Birth Deck. It’s a flashcard deck with easy to understand pictures and guidelines for your partner. It’s to have someone who can jump in and assist in any way, whether it’s prior to your doula’s arrival, or if they’re going to be your in-hospital support person.
A quick note about Homebirth… for some, this is neither a desired nor safe birthing option. However, for those whose birth plans already include homebirth as a potential option, quarantine could be an opportune time to more seriously consider it. Refer to our Natural Birth article for some advice and insight, as well as a more in-depth look at this.
3. Doulas can assist with at-home postpartum care.
Note that some folks are still opting to have night or day postpartum doula support in their homes after birth. Even with shelter-in-place and social distancing orders, this is possible to do safely. It does require clear communication between doulas and families, so this is not the time to be shy.
4. Your doula can provide virtual support during labor and delivery and the postpartum period.
Get the support you need remotely. The power of your doula’s voice (via video or phone chat) while you are in the hospital should not be cast aside. She can answer questions, help you advocate for yourself, and share on-the-spot ideas to keep your labor moving as smoothly and comfortably as possible. Those who have given birth may attest to the power of even one word or one question altering their entire birth experience.
You can expect that doulas are staying up-to-date with each hospital’s latest COVID-related rules. They’ve been adapting to the pandemic in real-time, implementing new, creative ways to support and advocate for pregnant women. If your family feels like a birth or postpartum doula may be a good fit, I highly urge you to check into it. Don’t let the pandemic prevent you from getting the pregnancy, birthing and postpartum support you deserve!
Good luck to you, mamas. We stand in awe, watching as you navigate these new and intense moments, under what seem like impossible circumstances. We see you… keep going.