What is a Doula?

Doula (pronounced Doo-laa) is a Greek word that translates as “mothering the mother” or “female slave”. Doulas are trained to enable them to provide emotional and practical support to a woman and their family during pregnancy, childbirth and the period of time following the birth.

Women have a whole range of complex needs during pregnancy, childbirth and the weeks that follow. Much of a doula’s work is done before the birth even happens, usually meeting with the woman at least twice to talk through their wishes and hopes, worries and if relevant previous birth experiences.

If needed, a doula will help you formulate a birth plan and then help to ensure your wishes are carried out during and after labour. In addition to the medical care and the love and support provided by their partners, women need consistent, continuous reassurance, comfort, encouragement and respect.

More and more women are craving the one-to-one care that a midwife is unable to provide. They want someone who can be there all the way through their labour, by their side and on their side which is something a midwife cannot guarantee due to shift changes and having to care for more than one woman. A doula understands that each woman is different and needs individualised care based on their personal circumstances and preferences.

Medical research has shown time and again the importance of emotional support during labour and birth to enhance the woman’s experience of birth as well as positively influencing the birth outcome and bonding experience.

Research has shown that having a doula present at birth:

  • Shortens first time labour by on average 2 hours
  • Decreases the chance of caesarean sections by 50%
  • Decreases the need for pain medication
  • Helps the partner participate with confidence
  • Increases success in breastfeeding (Taken from “Mothering the Mother” by Klaus, Kennell & Klaus 1993)

Birth doulas are trained and experienced in childbirth although they may or may not have given birth themselves. They have a good knowledge and understanding of birth physiology but it is important to know that the doula is not supporting the mother in a clinical role as that is the role of the midwife and other medical staff. The doula is there to provide continuous in-room help be it at home, hospital or wherever focusing entirely on the mother’s needs and those of her partner.

Dads are given an incredible responsibility during pregnancy and labour, and are sometimes left alone with the person they love in pain. A birth doula will support and advise the partner as much as the mum. A Postnatal doula supports a new family for the first few weeks in their home therefore allowing the new mum to adjust to the sometimes overwhelming emotional and practical demands of parenthood. Postnatal doulas work flexible hours to suit the family, offering practical and emotional support to the new mother and her partner in the home setting following the birth of a baby. This support allows the mother time to bond with her baby, rest and spend time with any older siblings.

Below are examples of postnatal support:

  • Light housework
  • Cooking
  • Shopping
  • Help with new baby
  • Help with older siblings
  • Help with breastfeeding

Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers – strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.

– Barbara Katz Rothman, PhD