When I first started working as a doula, I worried about what to do in my prenatal visits with families. Your prenatal visits are a place for you and your clients to get to know each other, build trust and begin to see you as a resource for their experience. You will also be demonstrating some of your skills to listen with attention, give non-biased education, support their decisions and encourage them find comfort, even outside their comfort zone. Here are some tips that will make you a better doula during the prenatal visits.
1 ) Ask open ended questions. Learn about who your clients are and what is important to them. Listen with your full attention. Bring your calming presence as they respond to you. Open ended questions are those that require a descriptive answer instead of just yes or no. Some examples are: How did you feel about becoming pregnant? How has that changed over the months of your pregnancy? Why did you decide to use doula support? What have you heard about birth? Really listen, with your heart and gut, to get to know them better and find your unique place in supporting and understanding them.
2 ) Discuss a birth plan. I like to have an example birth plan or template they can use. I introduce the idea of a birth plan as a “communication tool”. First, you’ll use a birth plan to educate your clients. They may have questions about why to choose one thing or another. Give them resources and educate them on their options. This is an important time for you to demonstrate your non-biased approach to birth support. Watch yourself! Don’t communicate your opinions or give advice about what you think is right.
3 ) Move away from too much information! As much as we like to share what we know, sometimes information can distract people from facing birth as a dynamic, changing experience that will require them to be flexible and rise to each moment with their own personal resources. Use humor, shared interests and storytelling to connect and build trust.
4 ) Practice pain coping and stress management. You can use your prenatal visits to build your clients’ comfort level with you touching and guiding them. At each session, introduce a new coping skill: guided meditation, breathing practice, use a rebozo, massage, back pressure or journaling. Get them out of their brains and into their bodies! Give partners a job to help with Mom’s comfort and relaxation, even in the last weeks of pregnancy. This will increase their communication, affection and time spent together.
5 ) Do art! Art activities have a natural way of reducing stress and increasing serotonin and oxytocin. This is good for Mama! Bring some modeling clay, drawing paper and pastels; invite your clients to make a picture or sculpture of their new family or their new roles in life. They can even make a Welcome banner for their baby to hang in the nursery. Belly casting can be another way to create a lasting memory. Start the entries in the baby book. Make it fun! This will create a space where everyone is relaxed and focused on positive images that remind them of their baby.
Use your prenatal visits as a time to help new parents relax and enjoy the journey. They don’t have to overwhelm themselves with tasks and information. You can help build experiences of joy and anticipation. And you’ll be building a great connection you can rely on during the birth.
CLD, CPD, CLE®, ICCE, Labor Doula Faculty
Abby Bordner started her career in Women’s Health. She began at Planned Parenthood in Portland, OR where she was trained as a health counselor for contraception and HIV/AIDS. She had her first child in 1999, when she began her interest in birth work. She pursued her doula certification, shortly after became a childbirth educator and eventually a lactation educator, as well. She teaches many educational workshops related to birth and parenting. She started an online parent education and personal support coaching business called Relationship Based Parenting. Her passion is working with families as a health and wellness educator to build skills that support compassionate families and all the important dynamics within it. She has two children and lives in Santa Fe, NM.