How doulas can support new and expectant mums

Francesca, a mother of five and volunteer doula in Bradford, shares her experience of helping others during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.

As a mother of a large family, Francessca, has always been fascinated by labour and birth and has toyed with the possibility of a career in midwifery. After 10 years of being a stay-at-home mum, she spotted an opportunity on Facebook to become a volunteer doula in Bradford, and a potential step onto the midwifery ladder.

In this article, she tells us about how much she enjoyed completing her training to become a Bradford Volunteer Doula at SHINE West Bowling, a local charity working in West Bowling, Bradford.

Francesca’s Story


I had spotted the doula volunteering opportunity on the Bradford Antenatal Birth and Beyond Facebook page, but had to put it on the ‘backburner’ as I couldn’t attend the training on that occasion. However, I did express an interest in volunteering and later down the line, the Bradford Volunteer Doulas invited me to an open day. After 10 years of being at home with my children, I knew that the time was right to do something for me, and this could potentially be a great opportunity to step into midwifery.

After I completed the application form, I was asked to come for an interview. I was successful and was then placed on the doula training programme at SHINE West Bowling. I absolutely loved the training and did not want it to end!

I learnt so much, and it changed how I felt about topics such as breastfeeding. When I had my children, I had no support around breastfeeding. I simply did not have enough knowledge and I had no one who could take the time to help me.

However, once I began the training it clicked, and I felt confident that I could support new mums to breastfeed.

My favourite part of the training was the module around labour and birth as I have always been interested in that. Alison Brown, Specialist Midwife at Better Start Bradford, delivered the session and she was amazing.

Shelley and Wren, the staff who delivered the training sessions, really cared for our well-being too. They ran a mental health check-in at the start of each session and made it clear that if anything during the training triggered us, then there was support and the opportunity for time-out.

Building relationships with mums as a doula

I was the first from our cohort to get matched to a mum. She was a single mum due in 2-3 weeks and had no family or support as she had moved over to Bradford from abroad.

We are normally allocated to expectant mums six weeks prior to the birth, so I had to establish a bond very quickly. She had been through a lot and was understandably anxious and worried. I was nervous at first, but the training prepared us well and I soon had her laughing with my demonstration on the floor of giving birth on all fours instead of on a bed. We connected quite quickly after that.

Though she was struggling, knowing that she had my support calmed her down. We went through her birth plan, and I explained all the options available to her. She did not realise that she could give birth in a birthing centre rather than a hospital. By the third week, I had seen her face to face five times, and we had done a ‘stork walk,’ a walk around the maternity ward a few weeks before the baby’s birth. I had also taken her to a Maternity Circle , a woman-centred community session providing antenatal and post-natal support for expectant and new mums.

I was really looking forward to supporting her through the delivery of her baby and ensuring that her birth plan was followed through. In the early hours of a Sunday morning in February, I got a phone call from the mum saying that she had gone into labour. I was so pleased that she had been allocated a bed at the birth centre and I drove her down there.

I felt that everything I had learned just fell into place and I supported the mum throughout the whole day. By listening to mum and working with the midwives, we created a calm environment and enabled her to sleep between contractions. This worked well as she had the energy to work with her contractions when they came, and she achieved the natural birth that she wanted.

I was so proud of my mum when she gave birth – she was in the ‘zone’. I know without a doubt that I do want to be a midwife!

I think everyone should have access to a doula. To have someone that is there solely to support you through your pregnancy and birth is a wonderful thing. Community midwives are so stretched, and a doula can fill the gaps in information and support with birth planning. As doulas, we have time to listen and support mothers and birthing people to explore their options.

Bradford Volunteer Doulas is just a brilliant project. I am so grateful to have this opportunity and to meet likeminded people. The training was such a great experience that I would do it again!

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.