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What is a Birth Doula?

Doula care is a new profession in our modern times, though doula care has been around since women have been having babies. It is still not a household word in many parts of the world. "Doula" comes from the Greek word that technically means "servant", in this case one who is in the service of women.  A "doula" of old would serve the lady of the household, particularly with childbearing and childrearing. Doulas are not midwives, doctors or nurses. They do not "deliver" babies, though they are present for the birth.

Today, the word doula refers to a woman who attends births as a complementary member of the woman's healthcare team, usually hired privately by the woman/couple. An expecting woman's primary caregiver, usually a midwife or doctor, is responsible for the more technical aspects of her care, like fetal monitoring, internal examinations, diagnostic tests, etc.


Free from these tasks, a doula is in a unique position to concentrate entirely on the supportive care of the pregnant, birthing, and postpartum mother and her partner.

What are some of the advantages of having a doula's care througout your childbearing year?

  •  A doula is concerned with your having a positive experience at this precious time in your life, not just a good clinical outcome.
  • A doula provides information from what to expect from your birthing experience to preparing you for things that may not be so expected.
  • She helps you to clarify the things that are important to you for your birth and does her best to help you achieve your wishes.
  • She will give you tips on how to communicate with your primary caregiver if necessary.
  • A doula will be available for non-medical concerns via meetings/phone/email.
  • She will educate you about caring for yourself throughout pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
  • A doula prepares your partner, if you have one, and makes sure they feel not only included, but like your most important supporter.
  • She does not leave your side when hospital shifts change...she stays with you throughout, clarifying information and providing reassurance


Doulas usually firmly believe that birth is a normal process and can most often be done with minimal intervention. However, there are times when medical interventions are needed for the health of Mom and Baby, or desired by a couple to make them feel safe and comfortable. Whether a mother chooses to plan an all natural birth, rely on external forms of relief, or needs a C-section, a doula's job is to support the choices her client makes with her primary caregiver.

In a hospital there are shift changes and you will see many faces come and go throughout your birth. The continuity of care a doula provides helps to calm your anxieties, as you will have the constant presence of someone dedicated to making you as relaxed as possible. She will do this by offering massage techniques, suggesting things you might like to make you more comfortable (birthing balls, warm/cold compresses, positional changes etc.),

and lots of praise and reassurance. Your birth doula also helps to care for your partner, making sure his needs are met so he is free to provide you with his support.  Your birth doula will stay with you until your baby is born, and for some time afterwards, depending upon your needs.

During your post-partum period, your doula will provide information and support for your unique breastfeeding relationship with your baby. She will give you tips on baby care, make sure you receive a home visit from a community nurse, and are recovering emotionally from the birth. She will visit you to make sure you are coping with the demands of parenthood, and offer you help and suggestions. She can provide information about community resources and refer you to appropriate healthcare providers when necessary. Most importantly, she, as the witness of your birth experience, can answer your questions and help you process your questions and feelings about it.  Understanding your birth story is an important part of  owning your powerful part in it.  It helps to pave the way for more empowered mothering.

There is concrete evidence that the presence of a doula at your birth creates:
50% reduction in the Cesarean rate
25% shorter labour
60% reduction in sythetic oxytocin use
30% reduction in analgesia use
40% reduction in forceps delivery
This information is containted in Mothering the Mother: How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier, and Healthier Birth by Klaus, Kennell, and Klaus (1993)

As well as these impressive statistics, there is growing evidence that breastfeeding goes more smoothly, babies require less trips to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and the mother and father feel good about their birth experience.


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