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What is a Doula?

The word “doula” comes from ancient Greek, meaning “Woman’s servant.” A birth doula is trained and experienced in childbirth and provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after childbirth.

What does a doula do?

During pregnancy, a doula gets to know the mother and develops a relationship through which the mother can ask questions and work through fears and concerns. She helps prepare a birth plan and helps the mother understand the various practices and procedures that may occur during the birth.

A doula will assist the mother at any place of birth of her choice, whether at a hospital, birth center, or at home. If the mother needs support before going to her place of birth, the doula can go to her home and assist with relaxation techniques and coping strategies. The doula will then accompany the mother to her place of birth and support her throughout labor and several hours after birth. A doula can assist the mother in establishing breastfeeding.

What does a doula NOT do?

A doula does not do any medical procedures, such as cervical exams, monitoring blood pressure and temperature, etc. However, they are knowledgeable in many medical aspects of labor and delivery and can help their clients gain a better understanding of the procedures and possible complications of late pregnancy or delivery.

A doula does not make decisions on behalf of a client or intervene in her medical care; a doula WILL help the mother be informed and empowered in her decisions. A doula WILL support and respect the mother’s decisions.

What are the benefits of having a doula?

Numerous studies have documented the benefits of having a doula present during labor. A recent Cochrane Review, Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth, showed a very high number of positive birth outcomes when a doula was present. With the support of a doula, women were less likely to have pain relief medications administered, less likely to have a cesarean birth, and reported having a more positive childbirth experience.

Studies have shown that having a doula as a member of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40% and requests for an epidural by 60%.*

What about the father's role when using a doula?

The role of the doula is never to take the place of husbands or partners in labor, but to complement and enhance their experience. Today, more husbands are an active role in the birth process. However, some partners prefer to enjoy the delivery without having to stand in as the labor coach. By having a doula as a part of the birth team, a father is free to do whatever he chooses. Doulas can encourage the father to use comfort measures and can step in if he wants a break. Having a doula allows the father to support his partner emotionally during labor and birth and to also enjoy the experience without the added pressure of trying to remember everything he learned in childbirth class!*

Are doulas only useful if planning an un-medicated birth?

The presence of a doula can be beneficial no matter what type of birth you are planning. Many women report needing fewer interventions when they have a doula. But be aware that the primary role of the doula is to help mothers have a safe and pleasant birth--not to help them choose the type of birth. For women who have decided to have a medicated birth, the doula will provide emotional support, informational support and comfort measures through labor and the administration of medications. Doulas work alongside medicated mothers to help them deal with possible side effects and other needs where medication might be inadequate, because even with medication, there is likely to be some degree of discomfort.

For a mother facing a cesarean, a doula can be helpful by providing constant support and encouragement. Often a cesarean results from an unexpected situation leaving mothers feeling unprepared, disappointed and lonely. A doula can be attentive to mothers at all times throughout the cesarean, letting them know what is going on throughout the procedure. This can free the partner to attend to the baby and accompany the newborn to the nursery if there are complications.*