What’s a Doula?

“A doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting, is experiencing labor, or has recently given birth. The doula’s purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable, and empowering birthing experience.”
–American Pregnancy Association

Doula Definition

Doulas are full of information, suggestions, and resources for you and your baby. Doulas do all sorts of things, from helping you feel prepared for your birthing experience to suggesting positions and providing comfort in the midst of labor, to guiding you through the first moments with your new little one. A doula supports all kinds of families through all kinds of birth experiences and brings with her a sense of confidence, calm, and peace.

What does a doula do?

A doula does not perform medical tasks, such as performing cervical exams, listening to baby’s heartbeat or diagnosing breastfeeding problems. There are incredible doctors, nurses, midwives, and lactation professionals who are there to provide clinical care to you and your baby in a hospital, home, clinic, office, or birth center. Doulas provide constant support throughout your labor and birth experience. A doula protects your birthing space and helps you emerge from your birth feeling positive, empowered, and confident that you had the information you needed to make the right choices for you and your baby throughout your labor.

Where does the word "doula" come from?

The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Clinical studies have shown that a doula’s presence at birth:

  • tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications
  • reduces the need for interventions such as pitocin, episiotomy, and forceps or vacuum extraction
  • reduces the need for cesarean sections
  • reduces the mother’s request for pain medication and/or epidurals

Other benefits include:

  • higher levels of confidence in partners as coaches
  • increased maternal sense of satisfaction in the birth
  • overall sense of well-being following delivery
  • greater success with breastfeeding
  • easier transition into parenthood
  • Research evidence shows that the quality services of a postpartum doula can ease the transition that comes with the addition of a baby to a family, improve parental satisfaction and reduce the risk of mood disorders.

(source: DONA International, DONA.org)

A BIRTH DOULA

  • Recognizes birth as a key experience the mother will remember all her life
  • Understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a person in labor
  • Assists families in preparing for and carrying out their plans for birth
  • Stays with the parents throughout the labor
  • Provides emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the family get the information they need to make informed decisions
  • Facilitates communication between the laboring person, partners and clinical care providers
  • Perceives her role as nurturing and protecting the parents’ memories of the birth experience
  • Allows the laboring person’s partner to participate at his/her comfort level

A POSTPARTUM DOULA

  • Offers education, companionship and nonjudgmental support during the postpartum fourth trimester
  • Assists with newborn care, family adjustment, meal preparation and light household tidying
  • Offers evidence-based information on infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, infant soothing and coping skills for new parents and makes appropriate referrals when necessary
    (source: DONA International, DONA.org)

WHY HIRE A DOULA?

The average labor and delivery nurse spends only fifteen minutes of her eight-hour shift offering physical comfort measures, providing emotional support, or advocating for her patients. Even a home-birth midwife’s primary concern is the mother’s health, and she has more than just the family’s emotional wellbeing to attend to. Having a doula provides both mom and partner a knowledgeable and experienced person who is there solely to support them, and who stays throughout the entire birth.

Different than a friend, a doula can be more objective and is specially trained in pain-reduction techniques and support measures for birth.

Studies have shown that the continuous presence of a caring, experienced woman can reduce the length of labor, the use of pain medication, the need for intravenous oxytocin to stimulate stronger contractions, the likelihood of having an episiotomy (snipping or cutting the vaginal opening), the percentage of instrumental vaginal deliveries, and the C-section rate.

Women who have a doula experience less pain and anxiety in labor, express greater satisfaction with the labor, feel that they coped better, have a heightened appreciation of their bodies’ strength and performance and themselves as women, breastfeed longer, and experience less difficulty in mothering. They can have more positive feelings toward the baby, better self-esteem, a better relationship with the father, and less postpartum depression.

A good doula enhances rather than detracts from the birth partner’s participation. Partners and close relatives are the best people to provide love and comfort to a laboring woman. A doula often provides support, guidance, and resources to the partner during labor so they are best able to provide care and support to the mother.
(source: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth)