What is a Birth Doula?

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  • Written By: Kristin C.
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 23 May 2020
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A birth doula can be an indispensable resource to a pregnant woman during labor and childbirth, though many people have never heard of a doula, and have no idea what a doula does. Quite simply, a birth doula provides physical and emotional support to the mother. The very word “doula” comes from ancient Greek, meaning “woman’s servant.” In fact, a good doula is very much like a servant to the woman in labor – she may help the laboring mother move into comfortable positions, offer food or drink, give a back rub, fluff pillows, or whatever else the mother may dream up for her to do.

More than simply being a servant, though, a birth doula is a very useful source of information during a time when many women find it difficult to think clearly on their own. Although doulas are not medically trained and do not provide prenatal or obstetric care, they are trained and experienced in meeting the needs of the mother during childbirth. A doula will be able to offer suggestions for pain relief during labor, and will offer constant emotional support to the mother. She will likely know ahead of time the mother’s preferences for her birth experience, and will be a ready advocate for the mother through delivery and beyond.

Unless it is the mother’s intent, a birth doula never takes the place of the father or other support person in the delivery room. Instead, it is her goal to guide the support person toward being helpful to the mother. It is only natural that many support people will feel awkward or uncomfortable in the delivery room – this just isn’t something that they do every day! The birth doula, though, has been there and knows the routine, and wants everyone to enjoy the momentous occasion as thoroughly as possible.

Although most women who seek out a birth doula are interested in natural childbirth, doulas can be useful in any birth scenario. In general, women are more satisfied with their birth experiences and have a more positive attitude toward their newborns when a doula has been present throughout the birth. They tend to have fewer medical interventions and Cesarean sections. Even their babies benefit from a doula’s presence, breastfeeding more easily and with fewer admissions to specialized care nurseries.

Finding a birth doula may be very easy or may be very difficult, depending on the area where the mother lives. It may be as easy as asking for a friend’s recommendation, or may require browsing online for a doula locator. However a doula is located, the mother should be sure to meet with her well before the baby’s anticipated due date to be sure that the birth doula is knowledgeable and is someone with whom she feels comfortable.

Ultimately, support is the name of the game for a birth doula; her job is to be there for the mother and fulfill whatever role the mother has in mind for her – a valuable asset for any woman in labor.


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