The term doula is Greek for servant. Doulas provide emotional
and physical support during pregnancy, labor, and birth and immediately
after the birth. They call themselves many things including: Childbirth
Assistant, Labor Support Professional, Birth Assistant, Birth
Companion, etc. A doula does not speak for a couple, provide medical or
clinical skills, or act in any unprofessional manner (most
organizations have policies that each doula must follow). Controlled
studies involving over 1,000 women have demonstrated that the presence
of a doula labor assistant resulted in a reduction in Cesarean sections
and decreases in length of labor, use of forceps and medications. By
mothering the mother during childbirth, the doula supports the parents
in having a positive and memorable birth experience. Childbirth is an
emotional and spiritual experience with long-term impact on a woman's
personal well being.
Use a Doula?
In order to have a positive birth
experience, most women need continuous labor support consisting of
praise, reassurance, measures to improve the comfort of the mother,
physical contact such as rubbing the mother's back and holding her
hands, explanation of what is going on during labor and delivery and a
constant friendly presence. Such tasks can also be fulfilled by a nurse
or midwife, but they often need to perform technical/medical procedures
that can distract their attention from the mother, especially in
hospital settings where shift changes, coffee breaks, heavy paperwork
and busy nights regularly occur. Midwives may be able to offer more
labor support, but they too have clinical duties to which they must
A Doula Provides:
- Help with preparation of a birth plan
- Helps you relax by using touch,
massage and words of comfort
Positioning suggestions during labor and birth as well as other comfort
measures such as hot or cold packs, counterpressure for the back and
use of a birth ball
Helps support the partner so that they can love and encourage the
Nurtures and protects the memory of the birth for the mother. She
provides couples with their birth story after the birth and helps fill
in the blanks or answers questions.
Many other possibilities that vary from doula to doula
The father or partner may be better able to provide continuous support
but has little actual experience in dealing with the forces of labor.
Even fathers who have had intensive preparation are often surprised at
the amount of work involved (more than enough for two people). Even
more important, many fathers experience the birth as an emotional
journey of their own and find it hard to be objective in such a
situation. What they lack however is knowledge of the normal birth
process. They do not know the many possible variations of labor. They
cannot possibly remember all the positions, breathing techniques and
little reminders that can make a labor go smoothly. With a doula
present, a husband can take part as fully or as simply as he chooses.
Some fathers or partners are concerned they may be sidelined or
replaced by the Doula during labor. Although individual situations
vary, and one should question a prospective doula about her philosophy
generally the answer to this question is no, she will not replace him.
Studies have shown that fathers usually participate more actively
during labor in the presence of a doula than without one. A responsible
doula supports and encourages the father and enhances his support style
rather than replaces him.