What is a doula?
April 15, 2010

I thought a great first post in a doula’s blog would be to explain what a doula is and what a doula does.

Many people are at least somewhat familiar with the term ‘doula’, or at least with the concept.

The concept of a doula has been around much, much longer than the present day incarnation of a doula.  For centuries women have been helping and supporting other women during childbirth.  They were mothers, sisters, and friends.  Today most doulas are professionals trained specifically to assist with the emotional and physical needs of childbearing women. 

The word doula to describe this position and profession is fairly new.  It comes from the Ancient Greek word meaning ‘female slave’.  Why slave?  While doulas are paid professionals we strive to be servants to birth and to mothers.  We are not the controllers or keepers of a woman’s birth, but rather an assistant to care for her needs.  Some doulas prefer to use the term birth worker, labor assistant or birth assistant. 

Whatever the word used doulas have a common goal: to assist mothers and their partners in having an informed, empowering and joyful birthing experience.  For some women this means choosing an unmedicated birth and for others medicated is their preference. Doulas respect a mother’s choices and support all types of birth equally.

So what are the specifics of what a doula does?  Each doula will have slightly different training, experience, tricks and methods but here are some commonalities:

– providing information and support during pregnancy

– providing continuous emotional, informational and physical support during labor, birth and early postpartum

– offering non-pharmaceutical comfort measures during labor

– helping parents to evaluate their options and choices

– empowering parents to advocate for themselves

– studies  show that the support of a doula may lead to a reduction in interventions and complications at birth and greater maternal satisfaction with the birth experience

Doulas do NOT:

– provide any medical, clinical or nursing services (this includes vaginal exams, checking fetal heart tones, blood pressure checks, prescribing medication, catching babies, etc)

– speak or make decisions on behalf of their clients

– encourage or participate in creating a confrontational environment with the primary caregivers (obstetrician, midwife, or nurse)

– take the place of a woman’s partner/husband (instead we help the partner to participate to his/her comfort level)

Here’s a great video about doulas. 

“…what impacted their feelings about their births was how powerful they felt… did they feel like they were in control…did they feel like they were in the drivers seat…did they feel like they were supported…did they feel like what they said mattered – those were the things that made their birth either positive or negative for them…” – Do You Doula