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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Mothering the new mums
Dawn de Mallet Burgess and Benjamin Lawson
Doulas are easing new parents' burdens
With more and more women having babies later in life - and living further away from their parents - many are turning to female mentors for help, rather than their own mothers.

BBC News Online's Jane Elliott looks at how "doulas" are making life easier for women in the first weeks after giving birth:

Taking a new-born baby home from hospital is always a daunting prospect for the first-time mother.

There are so many new things to learn, how to breast or bottle feed; bathing the baby and even how to dress something so delicate.

Doula is a Greek word meaning the most important servant or female slave in a household

In addition many mothers also have to juggle their day to day routines such as cooking and cleaning.

This is where a doula can be invaluable.

Basically a substitute mother, the doula offers a unique service for any new parent overwhelmed by the experience of caring for a tiny baby.

Health benefits

Doulas can be any age and although they are not necessarily medically trained they have usually been mothers themselves.

And it can have health benefits too - a study in the States shows that having a doula at your birth can mean 50% fewer Caesareans; 40% fewer forceps deliveries and 60% fewer epidurals.

New birth
Doulas can help make the birth less daunting

As well as giving support at the birth of a baby the doula can turn her hand to anything.

She will even help the mother shop, iron the baby's clothes and cook her lunch.

Dawn de Mallet Burgess, who is in her late 50s, has been a doula for two years.

A former Norland nanny and mother of three herself Mrs de Mallet Burgess is well aware of the complexities of raising children.

Mothering the mother

She specialises in helping first-time mums and dads, giving them advice on breastfeeding and coping with the demands of a young baby.

And she can be employed by the family from anything between six weeks and three months.

She explained: "A doula mothers the mother so that she can be with her baby. Very often these are women who do not have their mothers living by.

A doula mothers the mother so that she can be with her baby

Dawn de Mallet Burgess
"I help them to breast feed and reassure them that everything is all right with their baby.

"A lot of the people who employ me are in their late 30's and professionals. They are used to having control in their lives. Having a baby is something new to cope with.

"I usually help them with the baby's ironing, making lunch and generally giving moral support."

'Spiritual work'

And Mrs de Mallet Burgess said she gets a lot of satisfaction from her job.

"I love it. Doulas are a brilliant idea. I wish I had a doula when my babies were born.

"I also work with the fathers a lot and encourage them to bath the babies and have input in their upbringing so that they do not feel left out."
Hiring a doula
The cost of doulas vary from agency to agency, but Top Notch Doulas charge between 150-350 per birth. There is also an agency fee of 70 plus VAT and doulas charge between 10-12 per hour and the agency fee is 125 a month
Top Notch Doulas can be contacted on 0207 244 6053 or

"I think I have a gift for the job. Having a doula seems to calm mothers. It is lovely work and spiritual work."

Mother Daniella Lawson, of London, employed the services of Mrs de Mallet Burgess when her son Benjamin was born nearly eight months ago.

A former solicitor Mrs Lawson admits she had little or no previous experiences with babies and was terrified about being left alone with her baby.

"Dawn was indispensable. I had no experience with children before and I know a lot of people who are like that. Dawn came to help me when I brought the baby home from hospital and she showed me how to change, bath and breast feed the baby.

"My mother was not well and could not help me much.

"I would recommend a doula to anyone. The reason I chose a doula was because I didn't want someone who would take over my life and take over the baby, but someone who would help me."

Mrs Lawson, who still employs a doula, says she intends to keep using the service for some time to come.

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