• Jessica McGilvray

What to Expect During a Prenatal Visit with Your Doula

Congratulations! You've interviewed a few doulas and found one that's the perfect fit you! She's called you up and scheduled your first prenatal visit, and now you're wondering--what exactly does a doula do at a prenatal visit? You know your doula won't be doing any medical tasks, like checking your blood pressure or listening to fetal heart tones, like your midwife or OB does at each prenatal And, unlike most visits with care providers, your doula visit is most likely to occur at your home rather than an office. Maybe you're stressing about tidying up before she visits and wondering how put off she might be if there are dishes piled up in the sink. So let me reassure you--she doesn't care how tidy or not your home is! She wants to get to know you and your partner, to build a relationship with you, and to understand what is important to you. She is not there to be the clean police, and if she catches you running around tidying up, she will more than likely encourage you to relax and put your feet up. So let's answer our question: what can you expect from a prenatal visit with your doula?

1. She's going to do a lot of listening. That's right, a large part of a doula's work is simply to listen. It's like having a cup of tea with a good friend--a time to be heard and connect. She'll encourage you to talk about your ideal birth, any fears or concerns you might have, how things are going with

your pregnancy including any visits you might have had with your care provider, and any previous birth experiences you might have had. She will also encourage your partner to talk about his thoughts on the birth, anything he may be concerned about, and how he sees the birth unfolding. She really wants to get to know both of you and to build a relationship so you feel comfortable with her during labor later on. She wants to hear all of your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and wishes for your birth. And she will listen to you without judgement, bias, or criticism. She will validate your feelings and help you process your thoughts, information about birth you are learning, and any concerns you might have.

2. She'll offer resources. Wanting to learn more about birth and all the birth options available? Need a chiropractor or prenatal massage therapist? Birth photographer? What about community breastfeeding resources such as lactation consultants or La Leche Leagues? Nannies or childcare providers? Pediatricians? Your doula has you covered! She can point you to reputable, evidence based sources like books and articles to help you get the information you need. She has a broad network of professionals to connect you with for whatever you need. Basically she's your key to all things related to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, your own special doula-encyclopedia!

3. She'll help facilitate open communication with your care provider. A professional doula never wants to take the place of your chosen midwife or doctor. She seeks to be a part of your team and to encourage the entire team to function together. Part of this is helping you prenatally to open up important dialogues to be sure you and your provider are on the same page. She'll want to hear about your appointments and how you feel about them. Are there recommendations your provider is making that you aren't sure about? She'll help you organize your thoughts and make a list of questions to ask your provider and also provide resources so you can educate yourself as well. Terms being used that you aren't familiar with? She can help explain. What about informed consent? What does it mean and how can you be sure you are getting enough information to make informed choices for your body and your baby? She'll give you and your partner handy tips for communicating with care providers and getting the information you need.

4. She'll help you create a birth plan tailored to your birth and your wishes. There are so many options in regard to prenatal care, birth, and postpartum that it can feel overwhelming to wade through them all. Your doula will listen to you closely (yep, again with the listening!) and help you think through all of your options. She'll help you create birth and postpartum plans that reflect your wishes and encourage you to share them with your team so that everyone is on the same page. Then, she'll confidently support you in your choices, knowing that you are the expert here--and if you change your mid at any time during pregnancy or birth? No worries! She support you wholeheartedly then too. Your doula believes in you! She believes that you are strong and capable of making the best decisions for you and your baby, and she knows that birth is unpredictable and that plans can change. She's on your team the whole way.

5. She'll spend some time showing you hands on techniques that you can use for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Experiencing pregnancy-related aches and discomforts? Your doula can show you some ideas to help relieve those. Worried about a baby who is posterior, a breech baby, or just wanting to help baby be in the best position for your birth? She can teach you simple positions and techniques to encourage better fetal positioning. What about coping techniques for labor (even if you are getting an epidural, knowing some non medical coping techniques is so important!)? She'll coach you and your

partner and provide an opportunity to practice a variety of things, from use of the rebozo to massage and hot/cold therapy to visualization, breathing, and meditation. Wondering about pushing positions? She can demonstrate those too! What about after the baby comes? Perhaps you're uncertain about swaddling, babywearing, or other aspects of newborn care. She can help!

It sounds like so much, doesn't it? Rest assured, she will not cram all these things into one appointment. Typically, you will see your doula at least twice in person prenatally, more if needed, and you will have continual phone/text/e-mail support so you can ask questions, get resources and referrals, and benefit from her emotional support all throughout pregnancy.

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