A doula, pronounced ‘doo-la’ is a Greek word meaning ‘woman servant or caregiver’. The term ‘doula’ to describe a birth attendant first came into use in 1969. It was used to describe a non-medical person who attends a women’s birth and supports women and families throughout pregnancy, birth and as new parents.
Michel Odent the famous French obstetrician says of doulas:
‘If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it’.
They can provide both emotional and physical help as well as aim to help parents feel confident through their birth journey. Research-based evidence has shown that continuity of care by a non-family member or friend has been associated with better birth outcomes for mothers and babies. Importantly the evidence has shown huge benefits which include lower risk for inductions and obstetric intervention as well as far fewer requests for morphine and epidurals. Women who have a doula supporting them report less dissatisfaction with their birth experience, have shorter labours and have babies with better apgars at birth!
The reason why doulas are growing so rapidly in popularity:-
Providing parents with information and advice about pregnancy, birth and parenthood so they can make informed decisions about their birth choices and beyond.
Assisting parents with providing a birth plan for their hospital or other decided birthplace – home or birth centre.
Talking through emotional blockages which may arise through the pregnancy or debriefing past birth experiences.
Advocating for the couple through the birth and remaining with them throughout the entire birth once in active labour, even when the medical and midwifery staff have possibly changed many times.
Suggesting ways to move, breathe and visualise while performing massage, aromatherapy and or reflexology and many more healing modalities.
Providing low mood lighting and music of choice to create a ‘home away from home’ ambience.
Making a temporary bed for dad when he needs rest or sleep at times through the birth.
Taking a video or photographs of the birth throughout as the couple desire.
Emotional and physical support to the couple from a well understood smile or hug to words of strong encouragement when women so often need this support in transition.
When baby or babies are born, doulas can assist in a variety of ways from wrapping, settling, bonding, bathing and breastfeeding through to minding older siblings and assisting with light house duties so mother and baby can have some well-earned rest.
Some doulas are childbirth and parenting educators as well and may assist with private antenatal education classes and others may be trained in various healing or alternative modalities to suit your wishes.
Nowadays doulas work in a variety different ways. Some doulas support women during birth only, or just with a newborn baby, others may support women in pregnancy and there are some doulas who work specifically with families who have experienced pregnancy loss. There are of course doulas with specialities not mentioned here.
Whichever way doulas serve women, Doulas work with partners and extended family (where applicable) and their work can usually be divided into the following categories:
From massaging aching muscles to providing water and ice chips, physically helping women to keep active in labour, providing meals to new parents postnatally, helping with baby care, and assisting in light housework to ensure new parents are not overstretched and can focus all their energy on recovering and getting to know their new baby.
By being a constant and reassuring presence a doula is able to bring a great deal of comfort and confidence to parents and support people. Being positive and offering caring and encouraging words, helping women to navigate the emotional changes throughout the birth and with a new baby.
Doulas if trained as a childbirth educator may provide birth and parenting education. Doulas, particularly well-seasoned and experienced doulas can explain to parents the ‘normal’ process and expectations with different models of care, suggest techniques in labour like positional changes and relaxation methods in addition to helping parents access evidence-based information about options in pregnancy and childbirth. In times of high-stress doulas can be very helpful to ensure partners and support people (as well as women) understand what is happening.
Some women hire doulas to help them to ‘have a voice’ throughout their pregnancy, birth and the postpartum. The doula can do this several ways, for example: asking the birthing womans what she wants, encouraging parents to ask questions when they are unsure about decisions being made or have expressed a desire to avoid the suggested intervention, promoting effective communication between women and their care provider, encouraging the birthing person or their partner to ask questions and verbalize their preferences
Hiring a Doula would make a wonderful gift for a friend or family members birth. Make your birth the joyful, calm, and magical experience it can be for you, your partner and your baby and hire a doula.