What is a Doula?

“As a new member of the maternity care team,                                        the doula is able to mediate between science and humanity.”

from Childbirth Education-Practice, Research and Theory, by Francine H. Nichols, PHD, RNC, FAAN and Sharron Smith Humenick, PHD, RN, FAAN

Main Entry:  doula                                                                                                              Pronunciation:  dou·la  \ ˈdü-lə \                                                                                Function:  noun                                                                                                                    Definition:  a woman experienced in childbirth who provides information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during and after childbirth

What a doula is:

A doula is a professional who provides physical, emotional and informational support to families in the childbearing/early adoption period and may or may not hold formal certifications.  There are different types of doulas to serve women during pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and even during times of infertility or loss

Labor and Birth Doulas are trained in a variety of comfort measures that can ease pain and support the natural processes of labor and birth as an alternative to pharmaceutical pain management, or up until it is available.  Emotions play a significant role in the health of pregnancy and childbirth, and doulas encourage and empower both mothers and their partners on this level as well, providing continuous, focused support throughout the childbirth process.  Doulas are knowledgeable about a wide range of pregnancy and birth related topics and thus are a valuable informational resource, providing the full range of maternity care options that the expectant family may not otherwise be aware of.  Doulas help families to become knowledgeable about all of their options and then encourage them to make their own educated decisions about care based on their unique situations and preferences.

What a doula is not:

A doula is not a medical professional.  She doesn’t perform clinical duties such as vaginal exams or blood pressure monitoring.  These sorts of tasks are performed by obstetricians, midwives and other medical personnel.  A doula does not give medical advice or make decisions for the expectant family.  While many doulas have strong opinions and personal preferences when it comes to birth, their job is not to promote a particular agenda or pressure mothers to make the choices that they might make for themselves;  rather, doulas empower mothers and their partners with the information and support necessary to form opinions and make decisions for themselves. A doula does not replace the partner, but helps support all members of the expectant family according to the unique needs and roles of each person.

A 2017 update of a Cochrane review has shown the following benefits for women who have continuous one on one support during childbirth vs. those who do not:

  • more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • less likely to have intrapartum analgesia
  • less likely to report dissatisfaction
  • shorter labors 
  • less likely to have a caesarean or instrumental vaginal birth
  • less likely to have regional analgesia 
  • less likely to have a baby with a low five-minute Apgar score

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jul 15;7:CD003766. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5.