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Who are Doulas and why would you hire one

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

I get asked this question a lot! And I truly believe that we need to raise awareness about Doulas and add some clarity to what this work actually means. I'll start by telling you about some things that happened in my life recently.


2023 brought lots of big changes in my life - I moved to a new country, started learning a new language and started working as a Birth and Postnatal Doula. And the new country obviously brings new opportunities and meeting new people. And when they ask what I do, I get a lot of puzzled faces.


Don’t get me wrong, puzzled faces aren’t something new to me, I’ve been an expat for some years now, and one of the first questions I'm asked when meeting new people is where I come from. While most people have at least heard about Moldova (this is where I come from), there are still some who can’t picture it on the map. But telling people I work as a Doula is something else! From my experience, I’d say about 70-80% haven’t even heard the word before, let alone know what it means, or why Doulas can be helpful.


So let me explain what Doulas do and why they matter for the parenting journey.
Doula supporting home water birth

Doulas are relatively new as a concept, although the role itself is ancient. The term Doula comes from Greek and it means “a woman who serves”: Ask a doula what you need and she will give. A doula is a woman who offers: she will bring forgotten ritual, ceremony and community back into your life, fulfilling a yearning you may never know you had. (1)


They say it takes a village to raise a child. Traditionally, when people were living in close communities, this "role" was filled by mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunties, friends and neighbours. They would team up for the expecting parents and offer them support, information, motivation and anything else they would need. Also traditionally, young girls and women were exposed to and in touch with pregnant and new parents in their communities, they witnessed the journey of new parents, and they occasionally witnessed a birth or two before starting their own families. Nowadays we live far from our families and our support system isn’t as wide. New parents often have to rely only on themselves. But the complexity of pregnancy, birth and parenthood didn’t diminish, some might even say it got wider with the huge amount of information at our disposal, and the overwhelm it brings with it. A doula can become your "community" and help navigate the incredibly vast and beautiful parenthood journey,


So what do Doulas actually do?

A doula's role is all about ensuring the birthing person and their partner feel completely safe, confident, and in control of their choices. Your doula is there to offer various forms of support during the birth journey, including physical comfort, emotional reassurance, reminders to stay hydrated and nourished, and advocating for your family's preferences. After the birth, your doula can continue to be a valuable source of practical and emotional support for your family, and they can also guide you towards helpful resources and specialists when needed.


I can also tell you what doulas don’t do. I was talking with a friend after she had her baby, we were discussing how doulas can help during childbirth and she said she chose not to have one because she wanted to get an epidural and doulas are all about medication-free, physiological birth. Well yes… but absolutely no! Let me explain, doulas will empower you to have a physiological birth if that is what YOU want. If you want to get an epidural, she will be there judgment-free to support while you labour with the epidural. All doulas want is to make sure you know your options and rights, and that you aren’t coerced into medication or intervention if you don’t want it. A doula will not be telling you what to do or not do. In fact, she won’t even give you advice. What she will be giving is information and support to empower you to take an informed decision that suits YOU and YOUR baby specifically. If you find yourself with a doula who is trying to impose her views and opinions, consider choosing someone else who will empower you and your choices.


A doula should have no agenda and no judgement. She looks in the mirror daily and repeats the mantra “It’s not about me”. Her passion is to walk the path with you, supporting you unconditionally. Put simply, her role is to nurture - through her love and care, mothers can focus their energies on loving and caring for their babies. (2)

There is a common confusion that doulas are midwives, or that they have the same role as midwives. It's important to understand that that isn't the case because doulas are non-medical professionals, and have no medical training. While most doulas have extensive knowledge about birth, breastfeeding, postpartum recovery, baby development, etc., they will solely support you to make the right choices for yourself and your baby. Your doula will not be giving you advice, but will provide you with information to help you make informed decisions regarding your maternity care. Your doula will not take any clinical or medical role in your care, but will complement midwives and work alongside the medical professionals. Doulas act as companions, guides, cheerleaders, advocates and exceptionally caring friends.


You might ask, how can a doula help during labour and birth?

Here are some things that your doula can support with:

  • Be familiar with your preferences: You will meet your doula antenatally to discuss your preferences for labour and birth and get to REALLY know you. When things get intense and you don’t have the energy to answer questions or discuss with the health care providers, she can be your spokesperson and advocate.

  • Physical Support: Your doula will suggest positions for comfort and labour progress while offering hands-on measures like comforting touch, counter pressure, breathing techniques and other “doula magic”.

  • Emotional Care: Birth can be a psychological rollercoaster, and doulas are your emotional anchors. Your doula will create a nurturing space where your body's natural labour hormones can work their magic, whether you're going for an unmedicated birth or navigating a more complex journey. She will be there to support you on your journey as it unfolds in its unique way.

  • Partner Involvement: Your birth partner's experience is important, whether it's your romantic partner, mother or friend. Your doula will help the birth partner navigate the different stages of labour and birth with confidence, and play the role they desire.

  • Evidence-Based Guidance and Advocacy: Doulas are experts at connecting you with reliable, evidence-based resources. Your doula will empower you to ask informed questions and make decisions that are right for your unique journey. She will be your advocate, bridging the gap between you and your healthcare providers to ensure you receive the best possible care.


There has been research done on doula support, and I have to say it looks pretty good.

When it comes to birth, evidence shows that having a doula can mean:

  • Reduced risk of Caesarean birth.

  • Reduced risk of instrumental birth.

  • Reduced need for painkillers or epidural during birth.

  • Reduced rate of induction of labour.

  • Shorter labour.

  • Increased parental satisfaction with the birth experience.

  • Increased likelihood of initiating breastfeeding.

  • Increased likelihood of successfully establishing breastfeeding & breastfeeding at 6 weeks.

  • Lower incidence of depressive symptomatology.

  • Improved equity and culturally responsive care. (3)


But Doula support doesn’t end at birth, it can continue postpartum if you choose to.

A doula’s main goal in postpartum care is to support the new parents, or as we doulas like to say “mothering the mother”. Here are some of the things a postpartum doula can offer:

  • Emotional support: Embarking on the journey of becoming a new parent can feel quite vulnerable, and postpartum doulas truly excel at providing emotional support, being attentive listeners, and helping you stay true to your own instincts. They believe in the power of empathy, a warm hug, or even sharing a hearty laugh together to bring comfort and strength to you as a new parent!

  • Evidence-Based Information and Support: Postpartum doulas are trained to understand what new babies and new parents truly need. Your doula can help with soothing techniques, offer breastfeeding or bottle-feeding support, and explain normal newborn behaviour and postpartum recovery expectations.

  • Practical Support: It’s all hands on deck with a new baby, and your doula can help the days go by more smoothly by giving a hand with the baby’s laundry, doing the dishes or preparing nourishing meals for an easier recovery.

  • Partner and Sibling Support: A new baby means transition for everyone, including parents, grandparents and little brothers and sisters. Postpartum doulas understand everyone's needs, and can help the entire family adjust and settle in. (4)

Partner support during birth and postpartum

And here are some of the benefits that come along with Postpartum Doula care:
  • Improved maternal mental health: A comprehensive analysis conducted on 27 different studies has shed light on the positive impact of postpartum doula support on maternal mental health. This review and a thorough meta-analysis found a consistent connection between postpartum doula assistance and improved outcomes for new mothers, particularly in alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety. Postpartum doula support was linked to enhanced overall adjustment to parenthood. This included increased satisfaction with the postpartum experience and improved relationships with partners.

  • Increased parental confidence: A study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education unveiled interesting findings regarding the impact of postpartum doula support on parental confidence. The research revealed that parents who received assistance from a postpartum doula reported experiencing a significant increase in their confidence levels when it came to parenting skills and caring for their newborns.

  • Increased rest and response: A research study conducted in 2020 found that mothers who slept more during the first 18 weeks of their baby’s life showed greater responsiveness toward their infants. The study emphasized the importance of rest in improving a mother’s ability to understand and meet her baby’s needs. This discovery emphasizes the importance of postpartum doula overnight support in maximizing maternal sleep and ultimately enhancing the overall caregiving experience. (5)


Doulas provide comprehensive care for their clients that goes beyond what is typically offered by healthcare providers. Their focus on emotional, physical, and informational support can help families feel more in control and confident during pregnancy, childbirth, and postnatally.


Doulas are just women who really, truly care about other women, on a major level.
Linda Quinn, doula and doula mentor (6)

The most important aspect of finding YOUR doula is having a strong connection with them. Your ideal doula is someone who knows where you're coming from and what you want to achieve. The chemistry and trust between you and your doula can prove much more important than her previous experience in the birthing world.


If you get doula care during the precious time that is your pregnancy, birth and the time with your brand new baby, this is what she will be doing – serving you, your baby and your needs. Because women supporting women/birthing people in such crucial times has life-lasting benefits.


If you're reading this, make sure to share it with your friends, colleagues, relatives and your wider community. Spread the WORD, literally! Tell people about doulas, tell them there's this word that they might have not heard before but it's time they know it. Suggest expecting and new parents to reach out to doulas in their community and tell them about the help they can get. Help raise awareness and spread the doula magic!


Lots of love,

Ana.


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