What is a Doula?
A doula is a non-medical person who gives practical and emotional support to parents during pregnancy, birth and the post-natal period.
The term 'doula' comes from modern Greek δούλα (doúla pronounced dOO-la) meaning "female slave". Although the term is Greek in origin, due to the negative connotations of the word, it is generally not the term used by Greek doula's within Greece. Outside of Greece however, doula is taken to mean 'servant-women' and it is within this meaning our role is defined; to support parents and families.
"Kat was a perfect model of what a Doula should aim to be and I couldn’t think of anything she could have done better. We both really appreciated everything that she did for us." FE
Traditionally the role of a doula has always existed in cultures throughout the world, provided by females within the mothers family. Within modern culture, fragmented social support networks, and uncertain continuity of carer within healthcare have seen more and more parents searching outside their families and healthcare providers for a familiar, knowledgable person they can trust to provide 'continuous support' as they prepare for the birth of their baby.
Doula's have a unique role in the birth team. They do not replace partners, midwives or any other medically trained birth professional. By meeting with parents in pregnancy, and staying with them throughout their birth journey, a doula is afforded the time to really get to know the family they are working for. The doula hears all their hopes, dreams, fears and concerns. They are able to provide the parents with up to-date evidence based information on which they can make informed decisions about their care; sign post to qualified professionals who can assist with more specialised services; educate and empower; share knowledge about coping techniques & comfort measures for labour; advocate and 'hold' the birth space.
Although doula's are not required by law to undertake any professional training, most will have completed a three day accredited course at a minimum. In addition to this, many doula's are passionately committed to continuing professional development, undertaking additional courses throughout their professional life to consolidate, complement and supplement their knowledge and understanding of pregnancy, birth, and early parenting, developing a rich portfolio of skills.
Research conducted by Klaus et al (1993) and Hodnett et al (2011) concluded that support from a Doula enhances the well-being of mothers and babies leading to better outcomes.
A Cochrane Review examining the evidence for "continuous support for women during childbirth found that "Continuous support in labour may improve a number of outcomes for both mother and baby, and no adverse outcomes have been identified. Continuous support from a person who is present solely to provide support, is not a member of the woman's own network, is experienced in providing labour support, and has at least a modest amount of training (such as a Doula), appears beneficial. In comparison with having no companion during labour, support from a chosen family member or friend appears to increase women's satisfaction with their experience."
There is a growing body of research on doula support. If you're interested to learn more, you can do so here
“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”
John Kennell, M.D., pediatrician
References:Hodnett, E. D.; Gates, S.; Hofmeyr, G. J.; Sakala, C.; Weston, J. (2011). Continuous support for women during childbirth. In Hodnett, Ellen D. "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews". Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online)Klaus, M; Kennel, J; Klaus, P (1993). “Mothering the Mother; How a Doula can help you have a shorter, easier and healthier birth”. A Merloyd Lawrence Book, USA.