Birth Health Life


Tuesday, 28 July 2015


A few years ago, at the start of my job as a doula, I registered my interest in doing the breastfeeding peer supporters' course run by my local community trust.  Lots doulas do this, because it's a great way to give to your community whilst at the same time learning about breastfeeding and how to support mothers with young babies. Other than doulas, the other supporters are usually mums who have had support in their breastfeeding journeys and felt moved to give something back.

Embarking on the journey to becoming a doula usually begins with a Doula UK approved course which takes around a week of intensive study with a tutor and handful of students, with additional reading and study modules to be completed at home. It's as much about the journey of understanding yourself and your experiences, as it is about grasping the physiology and biology of birth. This inner journeying and reflection continues throughout the doula's working life, as does the gathering of experience and knowledge and the connections with doula friends who will support and debrief her as she will for them. Becoming a recognised doula is a bit like mentored self-directed study and apprenticeship, that finishes when you reach a certain level of knowledge and confidence, but really the learning and growing never finishes.

I found out that I had missed that year's intake for new peer supporters by a hair's breadth, and there was no indication of when the course would run again.  It was a 10 week course, over 5 months, and my obligation at the end of it was to volunteer in the drop-in clinics for a six month period.

A year went by.  I supported mums before, during and after birth, and marvelled at how different and diverse were the families I worked for. There were common themes though, and one thing stood out; the fact that no birth or postnatal job went by without a question about breastfeeding and nappies, input and output.  In my preparation sessions, I talked to couples about the 'golden hour' after birth and its importance for the start of the nurturing relationship.  I realised that, although I had fed five babies of my own, and done a brilliant doula course given by a passionate advocate of breastfeeding, this was still my weak area, the part I couldn't talk confidently about, the part of doula-ing which seemed to scramble my brain and tie my thoughts up in knots.  I knew that I needed to strengthen my knowledge, but I was beginning to dread the possibility of getting a place on the course and having to do the clinics.  I realised that breastfeeding, to me, was a jumble of memories of conflicting feelings and struggle, overwhelming joy once, but mainly struggle, pain, desperation, and (as was the way decades ago) an almost total lack of knowledgeable support.

It was during one of those times in life when business was quiet and I was wondering if I was on the right path at all, considering tearing down my doula website and jacking it all in, in the dismal dark and cold of mid-February, that the call came.  A nice voice on the end of the phone, reminding me that I had applied for the breastfeeding peer support training, and telling me that there was a course starting in the next few weeks. Was I still interested?

No, I wasn't.  I was scared.  I dreaded the clinic work which was my obligation after the course.  I imagined the tears, pain, frustration...being the person to support women through that...why would I want to put myself through this?

So against everything my head was saying, my heart said yes, so I did it anyway.

Here's how I got on.

These helplines are available if you need to speak to a breastfeeding counsellor in the UK:

ABM 0300 330 5453
NBFH 0300 100 0212 
NCT  0300 3300 771
LLL 0845 120 2918

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