What Is a Doula?

You might feel you’d like some extra physical and emotional support during labour and childbirth. During pregnancy, some mums-to-be hire a specially trained birthing coach, called a doula, for extra assistance before, during and sometimes even after they give birth.

A doula isn’t a substitute for a midwife, but she can provide extra comfort and emotional support during labour and delivery.

Read on to learn more about what a doula does, what the benefits might be and what questions to ask when hiring a doula.

What Is a Doula?

The word doula is derived from a Greek word that originally meant a ‘helper’ or ‘caregiver’, but now it’s used to describe a non-medical professional who provides emotional and physical support for mums-to-be during the process of giving birth, and sometimes during pregnancy and in the postnatal period after delivery.

Keep in mind that a doula is not a trained medical professional and isn’t a substitute for your midwife or obstetrician.

What Is the Doula’s Role?

There are many ways in which a doula might be able to offer care and support that your medical team can’t provide.

The best way to understand the job of a doula is to know the different types of support they can provide.

A doula isn’t limited to just helping you during labour and childbirth. She can give advice during your pregnancy, and she can continue to mentor you after your baby is born.

It’s up to you to decide how, and when, you’d like to make best use of your doula’s expertise.

These are some examples of the support doulas can provide:

  • Physical comfort during labour. A doula might help you with your breathing techniques, or give a comforting massage during labour, for example. Just having someone to lean on when getting around or changing position can help you feel more comfortable.

  • Emotional support. Whether you need reassurance, comfort or encouragement, a doula can provide it. She’s also there to just listen, if that’s what you need.

  • Information. A doula’s experience may come in handy when you want to know more about what happens when giving birth, or about methods of pain relief such as epidural anaesthetics, as well as what there is to look forward to in the postnatal period.

  • Communication. Your doula can serve as a liaison between you (and your family) and the hospital staff. It might also be reassuring to have someone by your side who can help explain your birth preferences to your doctor and midwife, ask questions and relay the answers to help you understand what’s going on if any unexpected procedures become necessary.

  • Help with feeding your baby. If you’ve chosen to breastfeed your baby, a doula may be able to help you navigate the challenges of breastfeeding, such as how to find comfortable breastfeeding positions. A doula can also answer your questions if you’re using formula. For example, when and how much to give.

  • Assistance with caring for your baby. If you’d like it, a doula could also help you get to grips with some of the new skills you’ll soon be learning, like giving your baby’ first bath or caring for your baby’s umbilical cord stump.

Is a Doula for You?

Although you may associate doulas with natural birthing, they can actually provide support however and wherever you give birth – be it at home, in a hospital or in a birthing centre.

In fact, some birthing centres and maternity hospitals even have doulas on their staff.

Although in some cases you might want a doula to be your sole birth partner, it’s usually OK to take more than one person with you to the hospital or birthing centre. So, if you’d like a doula but also want your partner or someone else who’s close to you there at the birth, you can have the best of both worlds!

It’s worth checking your hospital or birthing centre’s policy to make sure though, and keep in mind that there may be special rules that apply to doulas and birth partners in certain situations – for example, during an emergency or elective caesarean section.

How to Find a Doula?

You may be able to engage a doula privately on a fee-paying basis, or find one offering their services as part of a volunteer doula scheme.

If you’ve decided a doula may be a good option for you, think about when you’d like to start working with one, and start researching and interviewing potential doulas early so you have plenty of time to find the right one.

Your midwife may be able to give you advice on choosing a doula and point you in the direction of practicing doulas or trusted doula organisations and agencies in your local area.

It could also be worth asking the other mums-to-be you meet at birthing classes for word-of-mouth recommendations.

If you’ve found a doula who’s a good fit for you, it’s really helpful if you, your midwife and doula meet up and talk about how you can all work together to help you give birth under the safest and most supportive conditions.

If you’re drawing up a birth plan, you might want to add your chosen doula’s contact information, as well as an outline of her role during your labour and delivery.

Don’t forget to discuss this plan, and share a copy of it, with your doula as well.

What to Ask Before Engaging a Doula

The key is to choose a doula you feel comfortable with. Once you’ve found a few options, it’s worth having a discussion with each of them.

You might consider asking the potential doula about her

  • training, skills and experience

  • how many births she has attended

  • her philosophy when it comes to labour and childbirth

  • how she feels about your labour and birthing preferences

  • what she typically does for mums-to-be during labour and delivery

  • what various other services she may provide

  • and, of course, her fees and any other costs.

When meeting with a doula, it’s also a good idea to discuss any concerns you may have about your pregnancy and labour, and ask any other questions you may have.

And, of course, you should just see how you feel around the doula — after all, you two will be working closely together at a really important and personal time.

Whether you decide to have a doula during your pregnancy is a personal choice, and only you can know what would make you feel most comfortable. Although having a doula is useful for some mums-to-be, it’s not for everyone.

The goal is for you to feel as empowered and as relaxed as possible during pregnancy, labour, childbirth and beyond. Keep that in mind and you’re sure to make the right decision.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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