In a sit down our founder, Latham Thomas provides some detailed answers to questions about the doula process and provides a map for those who are interested in doula support but not clear on what it entails. As a mother of one whose birth experience transformed her life, Latham has become a leader in education and advocacy in the maternal health movement. Take a moment to absorb her thoughts and reflections on the powerful work she does to educate and support women during the childbearing years.
Mama Glow: What is the role of a doula? What gaps does a doula fill in the modern birth process?
Latham Thomas: Mama Glow aligns with the understanding that the role of the labor doula is one of professional support that blends the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual care of a mother and or couple along the childbearing continuum. A doula is a birth worker who is a constant presence of support provides emotional support, education, inspiration, advocacy and hands-on guidance for expectant mothers and couples as they approach and enter into the birth process. Doulas are for everyone and at Mama Glow we seek to democratize doula work making doulas accessible to women everywhere. We create mini videos on each of our Doulas so not only the public gets to see what modern doula work looks like. My client Rebecca Minkoff says regarding my doula work, “Latham’s a producer for your birth”. Doulas provide the following to support the birth process:
- Providing non-judgmental support for the expectant mother and family during, before and after her birth
- Providing non-medical support and differing any medical or clinical matters to the doctor or midwife.
- Providing warm companionship and creating trust with the mother and family during leading up to and during the birth process.
- Providing guidance and educational tools to help the mother and family make informed choices to lead to the vision and preparation of their desired birth.
- Practicing deep listening and allowing the mother and family to fully express their needs and desires.
- Creating a safe space and preparing to hold sacred space for the mother to ascend into the birth meditation.
- Being a fierce advocate for all birth clients
- Understanding the birth disparities in communities of color and advocating for underserved and at-risk clients.
- Providing a toolkit of comfort measures to help assist the birth process.
- Educating and encouraging the partner (if there is one) to participate at their level of comfort.
- Promoting breastfeeding and educational tools to help with breastfeeding success.
- Making sure that breastfeeding is established within an hour postpartum.
- Preparing mother for postpartum care and recovery.
MG: What are the different types of doulas, and when does the doula relationship typically begin/end?
LT: Doulas support women at every life transition. We come from a lineage of tribes. Humans lived communally because our lives depended upon it. In even the earliest known societies, we see evidence and examples of women supporting women in childbirth. It has only been within the past 100 years that childbirth has become medicalized and technocratic straying from the women-helping-women model.
I have attended births, deaths, abortions, I often serve as a fertility doula, I support women through postpartum doula support in reclaiming the sanctity and ritual of the postpartum period. I help support people in birthing their dreams- businesses, screenplays, books. Everyone has the capacity to give birth- in some way. And I am here to help hold their hand along the journey. In my birth work the relationship begins around 20 weeks and lasts well into the postpartum period. In postpartum work, I generally serve for a minimum of the first 40 days- this is aligned with global postpartum traditions of 6 weeks of committed care to support new mothers. I find that you never really “end” the relationship the connection is so powerful, I am like family to most of my clients and have delivered in some families 4 -5 of their children.
MG: What kind of training must one undergo to become a doula and what was your individual experience?
LT: There are a plethora of educational certification programs. I did mine with the Hudson Perinatal Consortium and was guided by an incredible team led by a fierce teacher named Jill Wodnick. It was months long and the course work took a year to complete. Mama Glow currently runs the fastest growing doula immersion program in the USA. We have hubs in NYC, LA, Paris and are launching in Miami this fall. Our doula trainees come from all over the USA and 6 continents. Some as far away as Thailand, Madagascar, China, Germany, France, Sweden, Spain, UK, New Zealand. Our Mama Glow Doula Immersion initiates women into birth work in a 3-Day immersive experience followed by several interactive workshops and mentorship support. We also give 1 year for our doula trainees to complete the coursework which includes reading, reflective essays, attending births and more. We support our trainees in business development as well. Birth equity is at the pulse of our training and we are deeply committed to educating the next generation of birth workers who are empowered and equipped to support all women/folks, especially those who are most marginalized. I’m pleased that we are working in hospitals in NYC and beyond, educating doctors as well as medical students about the value of doulas and working together to improve birth outcomes and effect clinically important reductions in inappropriately high caesarean rates as well as maternal deaths.
MG: Throughout the birth process, what kind of support do you offer physically?
LT: Touch transmits intention. Touch heals. I am big on mothers getting comfortable with touch- I work with therapeutic touch. I want moms to get coy with sensual and erotic touch with themselves first and with their partners if that feels good. I focus a on pleasure as a pathway to an empowered birth. Orgasm is the training ground for fertility and can help ground women into their power during birth. I want pregnant women to reclaim pleasure and self-care and learn to listen to the power and wisdom of their bodies, they connect to their inner wild. I teach hands-on comfort measures so the couple can practice healthy touch. I always loved the idea that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and I also begin my visits with a foot ritual. I wash or wipe down the mother’s feet and anoint her feet with Mama Glow ANOINTED LOVE BUTTER for a fancy foot mask. This is one of the ways I create intimacy, safety and help her to relax after a long day before diving into our session.
MG: Throughout the birth process, what kind of support do you offer emotionally?
LT: I do a lot of listening. I feel like a lot of my role is being a profound listener. It’s not about me, its about the client and what’s going on for her. So counseling technique is a piece of the work and part of what I employ as I work with mothers and couples. I offer sessions that are multidisciplinary and multidimensional in approach to help soothe the nervous system and help mother connect deeper with her intuition and her baby. My work is deeply spiritual in nature. I mostly go to my client’s homes for home visits and some of them will come down to our women’s space, Circle by Mama Glow in Williamsburg and for treatments that incorporate healing modalities from breath work, sound and song, touch point therapy to energy reading. These sessions are transformative. I also help my clients establish a self-care practice that’s attainable and sustainable. When there are needs that move into perinatal mood disorders, like postpartum depression and anxiety, I usually send those mothers to one of our partner providers to handle with care along side the work I am doing.
MG: Throughout the birth process, what kind of support do you offer educationally?
LT: Before birth while I am working with couples I teach the anatomy of labor and birth. We practice comfort techniques, pressure points, use aromatherapy. I send videos, assign reading and do a lot of hands on practicum. I help them understand the language and science of what they are experiencing. I educate them on their rights so they can advocate for themselves. Part of this includes, the Patients Bill of Rights and what informed content means in birth, in the age of #METOO. It is important to know what consent really means. We also review their Birth Preferences – or Birth Plan. This also gives me a sense of how much education they already have and what they still have questions about or need to learn. I do relaxation sessions with them to help ease stress, tension or anxiety. I attend a meeting with their doctor and assemble the birth team and ancillary supports that might be necessary.
MG: During labor, what kind of support do you provide?
LT: I use every thick up my sleeve, I have a background in medicinal herbs and wild edibles so I bring herbs into the birth, I often invite acupuncturists to come depending on what’s needed. I hold the space energetically for the laboring mother and couple. Birth is a spiritual event. I communicate and elucidate information and help the laboring mother or couple make informed choices. I use massage and comfort techniques and enlist the help of the partner (if there is one) to participate at their level of comfort. I make sure mom stays hydrated. And make sure everyone understands her Birth Preferences. I help her adjust when we need to switch course and buy her time when we are under pressure.
MG: How does a doula work with a mother-to-be’s partner during the birth process?
LT: I believe that partners should participate at their level of comfort. That being said, we encourage closeness, education, uncovering and leaning into the partner’s strengths and acknowledging their vulnerabilities. I always make sure to work as a team and center the partner as well so we are elevating the family unit. I provide education and resources and in some cases I will introduce partners to other couples I have worked with who are really great advocates or who have similar experiences so they can help provide council and be a buddy. I assign tasks and help empower them with the tools they need to feel prepared for the process- whether that is packing the birth bag, creating a playlist, getting the birth ball, timing the contractions, etc.
MG: Why is it so important for a woman to have this kind of multifaceted support during her pregnancy?
LT: Birth is transcendent. Sacred. Holy. It can impact how you live the rest of your life. Having a multi-pronged approach to service is critical to reduce poor maternal health outcomes. When we are talking about 700 women dying during childbirth annually in the USA, we are in a crisis. For black women, who are 4 times more likely than white women to die during childbirth or due to childbirth related causes, having doula support can be life saving. I advocate for culturally competent support for mothers. It’s important to have practitioners who operate outside of the system to provide perspective and support. I want mothers to be initiated into motherhood and feel empowered.
MG: In your experience, what are the overall short and long term benefits of having a doula?
LT: Mothers adjust to new motherhood more easily with doula support. They have increased breastfeeding success. We help facilate bonding. They feel more capable. They recall the experience more fondly. They recover more quickly. Less incidence of postpartum depression and when it occurs, it is addressed immediately since there is support. Help with systems to get life in order so when baby arrives there is a sense of calm and organization, so mom can focus on learning to breastfeed and bond with her new baby. There are so many benefits that aren’t quantifiable, but I know that people always say, “I couldn’t have done it without you”. I anticipate the needs of the mother and she is forever thankful for the support, the council and my expertise.
We have data for the short term benefits:
9% drop in use of pain meds
31% less use of pitocin
34% fewer perceived negative birth experiences
40 minute shorter labor
12% increase in vaginal births
28% fewer cesarean sections
Higher APGAR scores for newborns
We are here for you and so ready to serve!
If you are considering hiring a doula please visit our DOULA OFFERINGS to learn more about how we can support you!