What is a Doula?

When I tell people that I'm a Birth Doula in addition to being an ND, I get a lot of confused looks. I find it amusing because it's the same look I use to get when I told people I was going to be an ND. Doula comes from the Greek word doulē meaning "a woman that serves." They continuously help mothers throughout childbirth by supporting them emotionally, physically, and facilitate communication between health care staff.

Doulas empower mothers through hearing and understanding her birth preferences, and addressing any questions or concerns that she may have before the birth. By doing this, mothers don't feel like they are entering alien territory, she has an understanding of what to expect, and is comforted with the knowledge that her doula is there for her - no matter what she chooses during the birth. This means that doulas are present and supportive whether a mother chooses to give birth naturally or through cesarean. 

During the birth, doulas also act as a facilitator between the mother and the healthcare providers, to allow the mother to understand the medical talk and her options, so that she can make an informed decision. Doulas also give verbal encouragement throughout the birth and encourages the mother to trust in herself and her body to give birth to her baby. 

Being a doula can be very hands-on, and they often use a lot of touch to help ease pain, through massage, counter pressure, coaching the mother through breathing techniques, visualization, etc. Different positions can also be suggested to provide the mother more comfort and help baby get into a better position for birth.

Doulas allow the partner to be as involved as they would like, without the pressure of having to remember everything they learned from the prenatal classes. If the partner wants to, they can use techniques that the doula can teach to help ease pain, while the doula supports the mother through the other ways listed above.

Benefits of having a doula were seen in a Cochrane review reviewing 21 trials, these include:

  • Increased likelihood of a spontaneous birth
  • Decreases overall cesarean births
  • Decreases the length of labour 
  • Decreases requests for an epidural 
  • Decreases use of oxytocin/pitocin (American Pregnancy Association),
  • Increases satisfaction of birth experience
  • Decreases in the use of instruments (eg. vacuums, forceps)

Those listed in bold are results that excelled with a doula than other types of support that were studied (Evidenced Based Birth); for the other results, there was no difference between the different types of continuous support. These percentages will be different depending on where you go, based on how they calculated it and where they got their source, but the pattern of benefit is the same.

 “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”

~John H. Kennell

- Dr. Charmagne