A doula is a trained childbirth assistant. Their role is to provide expecting mothers with emotional, physical and informational support. They are often present for the birth of the baby, and provide similar services afterwards, so the new mother is as comfortable in her new role as possible. The word ‘doula’ itself is a Greek word meaning ‘woman servant or caregiver’. Doulas are trained and experienced in childbirth, although they may not have children themselves. Their knowledge of the female body is good for assisting the mother, however they are not trained in the same clinical manner as a midwife or doctor.
A doula offers a range of different services, depending on the needs and situation of the expectant mother. Usually, the doula will meet with the mother, or the couple, before the birth, and is available for additional meetings if necessary. The doula’s main job is during labour, however. Birth support doulas attend to the emotional and physical needs of the patient in order to make labour a smooth process. Doulas are not trained to perform vaginal examinations, or check heart rates. Their primary treatments are through massage, reflexology, and aromatherapy that affects breathing , comfort, movement and positioning. They also speak on behalf of their client to medical staff to communicate wishes and make decisions that involve the medical process. After the birth, the doula can assist the new mother in settling in to her new role, and provide advice about breast-feeding and infant soothing, and aid the mother’s emotional recovery.
Doula assistants are also trained to help the partner of the mother-to-be, as they can be under-prepared for both the labour and subsequent child-rearing. The doula does not try to supplant the father, so much as they do try to aid the father where appropriate and give them the benefit of years of experience. The doula is also there to help the father emotionally, as it is a time of change for him as much as it is for the mother. With this in mind, the doula’s job is to facilitate a smooth birthing process by keeping both parts of the couple as comfortable as possible – whether it be with food, drinks, pillows or emotional support. This is intended to leave the father free to look after the mother and share the experience more fully with her.
Doulas are believed to offer many benefits to both the mother, father and child involved in the birth. Women with doula helpers have been known to have shorter labours, less medication, lower rates of operative vaginal surgery, and lower rates of cesarean delivery. The babies themselves are believed to have reduced foetal distress, and it is believed to decrease the likelihood of their being admitted to intensive care after birth. The mother’s self esteem is believed to be positively affected, and her emotional distress lessened.
As an employer and a mother it is important to select the right person to assist you through the birthing process. The nature of the doula’s role is quite intimate, so prospective doula employers are encouraged to listen to their initial feeling about people they are considering to hire. Some people may want a doula who is a strong advocate, but others require ongoing physical support throughout the labour. It is also important to make sure the doula’s views on birth align with the expectant mother’s, so there are no unnecessary complications through the stressful time of childbirth. DONA International is the premier doula association of the world.