What is a doula?

The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth. A birth doula provides critical support and assistance to the mother, helping her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.

The doula’s education, quiet support and guidance are a manifestation of the traditional support that our society is missing. Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter with fewer complications and babies are healthier and breastfeed more easily. Research has also shown that labor support from doulas is both risk-free and highly effective.

A Birth Doula:

  • Recognizes birth as a significant experience a woman will remember all her life
  • Provides information, resources and referrals regarding pregnancy, labor and birth
  • Understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor
  • Assists the woman in preparing for and carrying out her plans for birth
  • Stays with the woman throughout the labor and immediately postpartum
  • Provides emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the woman get the information she needs to make informed decisions
  • Facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and her clinical care providers. A doula encourages women to advocate for themselves.
  • Perceives her role as nurturing and protecting of the woman’s memory of the birth experience
  • Encourages the woman’s partner to participate at his/her comfort level

A birth doula certified by DONA International is designated by the initials CD(DONA).

What effects does the presence of a doula have on the mother?

When a doula is present during and after childbirth, women report greater satisfaction with their birth experience, make more positive assessments of their babies, have fewer cesareans and requests for medical intervention, and experience less postpartum depression. The goal of a good memory of the childbirth process, guides the birth doula’s care, as the mother is nurtured, treated with kindness and respect throughout the labor and delivery. Women’s satisfaction with their birth experiences, and even their self-esteem, appears to improve when a doula has assisted them through childbirth.

What effects does the presence of a doula have on the baby?

Studies have shown that babies born with doulas present tend to have shorter hospital stays with fewer admissions to special care nurseries, breastfeed more easily and have more affectionate mothers in the postpartum period.

Does a doula replace nursing staff?

No. Doulas do not replace nurses or other medical staff. Doulas are well-versed in nonmedical skills and do not perform clinical or medical tasks such as taking blood pressure, doing vaginal examinations or providing postpartum clinical care. They are there to comfort and support the mother and to enhance communication between the mother and medical professionals.

Does a doula make decisions on my behalf?

A doula does not make decisions for clients or intervene in their clinical care. She provides informational and emotional support, while respecting a woman’s decisions.

Will a doula make my partner feel unnecessary?

No. The doula and the partner work together. A doula is supportive to both the mother and her partner, and plays a crucial role in helping a partner become involved in the birth to the extent he/she feels comfortable.

Why use a doula?

Women have complex needs during pregnancy, childbirth and the weeks that follow. In addition to medical care, and the love and companionship provided by their partners, women need continuous reassurance, comfort, encouragement and respect. They need individualized care based on their circumstances and preferences.

DONA International doulas are educated in the pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum period. We are prepared to provide physical (non-medical), emotional and informational support to women during labor and birth, as well as the days following childbirth. The doula helps the mother gather information about her various options, including risks, benefits and accompanying precautions of interventions. A birth doula offers a loving touch, as well as positioning and comfort measures that make childbearing women feel nurtured and cared for.

Numerous clinical studies have found that a doula’s presence at birth:

  • tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications
  • reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience
  • reduces the need for pitocin, forceps or vacuum extraction and cesareans
  • reduces the mother’s request for pain medication or epidural
  • some obstetric outcomes are improved

Research shows parents who receive support can:

  • feel more secure and cared for
  • early mother-infant relationships are enhanced
  • have greater success with breastfeeding
  • have greater self-confidence
  • have less postpartum depression
  • have lower incidence of abuse