The Birth Pro

Practical Wisdom for Today's Growing Family

So What is a Doula Anyway?

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confusedbabyInvariably when I tell someone that I am a doula someone will say “a what?” To which I reply that I provide professional, non-medical labor assistance through educational, emotional and physical support. But that’s kind of a mouthful. So here is my obligatory post on what a doula is and what she is not.

The word doula is a Greek word, δούλη (doulē), directly translated to mean “a woman who serves.” This is from ancient Greek so modern doulas who attend births also refer to themselves as “professional labor assistants” and doulas who help after the birth refer to themselves as “postpartum doulas.” doulablocksSome professions have other kinds of doulas, but the two main kind are birth and postpartum doulas.

Historically, the women in your immediate and extended family would fill the roles we now call doulas. With how spread out we can be by the time we are in our birthing years, coupled with potentially less-than-desirable family dynamics, the profession of doulas has gained a great deal of popularity. More than just a fad, though, having another woman’s support through these vulnerable and very impressionable times has, throughout time, always been considered essential. It has only been in the last century of time that it was not a standard to always have women supporting and helping throughout the childbearing year.

Birth Doulas

doulaThe main idea behind a birth doula is that of continuous labor support. A birth doula provides physical, emotional and educational support to the mother and her partner before, continually during the labor and then after the birth as well. Generally, a laboring will have had a chance to establish a relationship with her doula previous to labor, while others may meet their doula during labor if their birthing facility has an on-staff doula program that is set up that way. The overwhelming majority of doulas are women although there are some men who have chosen the profession. Several studies have shown that when there is a doula present for birth, labors are shorter and have fewer complications, babies are overall more healthy and they breastfeed more easily. The overall satisfaction of the birthing process is dramatically increased as well.

From DONA, International, a doula:

  • Recognizes birth as a key experience the mother will remember all her life

  • 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

  • Provides emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the woman get the information she needs to make informed decision

  • Facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and her clinical care providers

  • Perceives her role as nurturing and protecting the woman’s memory of the birth experience

  • Allows the woman’s partner to participate at his/her comfort level

big_yawnPostpartum Doulas

Like birth doulas, postpartum doulas are very in tune with the needs of the new mother. They are there to help you in whatever capacity you need as a new mother. They can prepare meals, do housework, assist with older children, and generally help to make the transition with the new addition as smooth as possible. They also provide physical, emotional and educational support during this unique and limited time.

Again from DONA, International a postpartum doula:

  • Offers education, companionship and nonjudgmental support during the postpartum fourth trimester

  • Assists with newborn care, family adjustment, meal preparation and light household tidying

  • Offers evidence-based information on infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, infant soothing and coping skills for new parents and makes appropriate referrals when necessary.


So did you have a doula for your labor or postpartum? How did it go? Would you recommend one to others?

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