A doula is a type of specialist who has been trained to support a laboring woman before, during, and after her birth. The word doula derives from the Greek term “a woman who serves” and they do just that: they provide emotional and physical support to help a woman achieve the birth experience she desires.
Many people often ask if doulas actually do deliveries—they are not trained for this purpose. Doulas can either be birth doulas (where they are present during the delivery) or postpartum doulas (their main support is provided in a woman’s home after she delivers). Some do both.
Doulas can help bring a level of calm to a delivery, especially if this is your first time giving birth. They can offer suggestions for different labor positions or pain-relief techniques that you might not have thought of yourself. Doulas can also help you to communicate with the nurses and doctors you might be meeting for the first time in the hospital.
Postpartum doulas can be very helpful in that notorious “fourth trimester”—they can provide guidance with breastfeeding and help you along those first few weeks, when you may not have yet gained the confidence that comes with parenting. Some even help with light meal preparation and cleaning up!
Studies have shown that women who receive continuous support while in labor have shorter labors, are less likely to need a C-section, have higher satisfaction with their deliveries, and are less likely to need an epidural. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an epidural if you have a doula or that she will leave once you get one! They will support you no matter what.
It should be noted that doulas are not board-certified lactation consultants (some may be, but that is a separate educational and certifying pathway), nor are they obstetric or pediatric providers. If any concerns are identified that require potential medical care, you should check in with one of these specialists.
If you are pregnant and interested in hiring a doula, DONA (Doulas of North America) International has excellent information about how to go about doing this so you get the type of doula you need.
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, April 2020
- A doula is someone who provides birth and postpartum support.
- Women who give birth with doulas have higher rates of vaginal deliveries and shorter labors.
- Doulas are not meant to replace lactation consultants or obstetric or pediatric providers.