This is such a common question I felt it important to at least briefly address. When should you call your doula in labor? When is too early… or too late? What’s the “sweet spot”? Why does timing matter? I’ll cover all this and more below!
Do keep in mind that every doula has her own approach; these are purely my opinions.
Your doula can stay home for this part. Privacy is excellent for early labor — too many swirling energies can get distracting for a birth giver who needs to focus on her work as it grows heavier. External comfort needs are usually lower at this stage; many laborers already have the tools within themselves to instinctively cope, and require little other than space, nourishment, and perhaps the presence of their partner. These last hours or days before bringing a baby into the world are sacred, and can be intimate in unparalleled ways if given the chance to breathe without interruptions. Plus, no one likes feeling like a “watched pot”!
I do ask my birth givers to stay in contact throughout early labor with updates. I don’t expect them to personally text or call while in the labor zone (those blue lights can be so distressing!) so I recommend the birth partner to handle communications as much as possible. Sometimes I will ask to listen to her sounds as this clues me into how she is coping and how things are progressing. I often receive screenshots of contraction patterns. (Even photos of a runaway mucous plug or two!) In short, just because I’m not yet physically present, I’m still on-call and immediately available for any kind of assistance over the phone.
Because we’ve been keeping in touch, unless this is an unfathomably rapid-fire labor, I’ll have plenty of time to clear my upcoming schedule, wrap up my affairs, gather my things, freshen up, recalibrate my energy, and so on. By the time I get “The Call” (more on that next), I should be ready to head over. However, I do ensure families are aware it can take up to two hours for me to reach them (accounting for the effects of travel time, limited early labor communication, personal needs and so on) and to keep this in mind when making The Call.
This is a great time to rally the in-person support of your doula — active labor!
Your provider might quote the “4-1-1” or “5-1-1” rule as “official active labor” to help you determine when to head to the hospital or birth center, or when to request their presence at your home. (Essentially this means you’ve been regularly timing contractions and they’ve now reached 4-5 minutes apart, lasting at least a minute, for at least an hour).
Of course, numbers don’t mean squat if a laborer is having a tough time on her own when contractions haven’t quite yet reached this pacing. Do you feel scared, uncomfortable, needing something or someone…? Do you feel ready to gather your birth team, with a knowing you can’t justify according to the “numbers”? That’s okay. Call your doula. She is here for this — she is here for you.
Sometimes a first-time birth giver will prefer her doula to join her a bit earlier. If she isn’t sure how she’s doing, the doula can always pop by, lay eyes on her to assess how things are going, provide reassurance or suggestions, and make a plan to return later when things have ramped up.
As labor moves into the active stage with an established contraction pattern, a doula may: meet their laborer at home to provide support and comfort; meet them at home just in time to assist in traveling to the hospital or birth center; or they may meet them directly at the birth place if not at home.
What I want to remind you most of all is YOU are the captain of your own birth. The insights above are not “rules” by any means. Spend time thinking about how you want this to look and feel, then talk to your doula about making adjustments outside the “norm” if your vision doesn’t match the standard “protocol.”
What to consider:
- Why did you hire a doula?
- What will her role be at your birth?
- How do you imagine your early labor going?
- How about active labor, when the intensity ramps up?
- What kind of support do you want?
- Will you need to travel at some point in labor?
- How far away does your doula live?
- What are your needs now? How do you anticipate your needs evolving later?