For the most part, the clients you support through their birth experiences will have lots of similarities. Birth usually follows a rhythm, and even though some things vary, thankfully most babies will be born without emergency. 

But what do you do when there is a true emergency situation during birth? How can you best support your client and their partner? There are some things you should do and some you absolutely shouldn’t.  

Stay Calm

This is probably the most important thing you can do for your client and their partner. A huge reason why people hire doulas is because they need that calm, reassuring presence during labor. They know you can help ground them, bring them back if they start to panic, remind them that all is going as it should go. When things don’t go as they should, you are still the person who can help reduce their fear. Doctors, midwives, and nurses may be frantically moving and preparing and administering medications and working in the moment, so you as the doula can:

  • keep eye contact with your client
  • use a calm voice
  • assure them their providers are prepared and know what to do
  • hold their hand (if allowed) 

If the emergency requires your client to be taken to another room and you are left with their partner, reiterate the above to them as well. 

What Not to Say

It’s human nature to be hopeful, especially when it comes to babies. We fight against the idea of catastrophe because our hearts and minds rebel at the idea that a newborn or pregnant person might not survive. In emergency situations, it’s important to bring as much peace, encouragement, and reassurance as we can – but we must be very careful not to make promises for things over which we have no control. 

Do say:

  • I know you’re scared
  • I understand your {concern, fear, anger}
  • I am here to listen
  • I will do all I can to help you
  • I won’t leave you alone
  • Let’s get more information from the {doctor, midwife, nurse}
  • Can I call {family member, friend} for you

Don’t say: 

  • I know everything will be fine
  • I’ve seen this before, it’s nothing to worry about
  • You’re overreacting
  • I promise {specific outcome} 

While we are not medical professionals, we usually have more knowledge related to birth than our clients. They may ask us to assess the situation and tell them what to do, or what will happen next, or predict the outcome of the current situation. All of that is outside of our scope as birth doulas. It is inappropriate and dangerous to step over the line from educator and encourager to make a medical diagnosis or promise an outcome related to a medical procedure. We can share our knowledge, our hearts, and our hopes, but we cannot make promises. 

If you’d like to feel more confident in this area of support, consider Birth Beautifully’s Doula Mentoring Program. We love helping to build up our profession and are available to mentor new doulas as well as guide seasoned doulas in new areas or just refresh practices. Come see us here

Christine Herrera

Christine Herrera

Christine Herrera helps people become amazing birth professionals.