What is a doula?
The word “doula” comes from ancient Greek and means “a woman who serves.” A birth doula is a trained professional who offers continuous emotional, physical and informational support to the mother* before, during and just after birth. Postpartum doulas provide support during the postpartum period.
A doula offers continuous support throughout labour and delivery. Doctors might enter and exit the room frequently, and nurses work in shifts, but the doula will stay with the mother throughout labour and birth. Having a familiar face continuously at one’s side regardless of the length of delivery may be comforting and reassuring.
Birth doulas have training in many areas, such as the physiology of pregnancy and birth, evidence-based methods of coping with labour, and interprofessional communication.
Why use a doula?
Clinical studies have demonstrated that the presence of a doula has many physical benefits for mother and baby, such as:
Shorter labour with fewer complications.
Less need for interventions such as forceps, vacuum, or synthetic oxytocin (a labour-inducing drug).
Reduced likelihood of having a caesarean section.
Reduced likelihood of the mother requesting pain medication and/or epidural.
Greater success with breastfeeding
As well, the presence of a doula has been associated with mental and psychosocial benefits for parents, such as:
Decreased likelihood of postpartum depression.
Decreased likelihood of negative feelings about the childbirth experience.
Greater feelings of security, self-confidence and being cared for.
Less difficulty adapting to new family dynamics
For more information about the benefits of having doula support visit the Doulas of North America (DONA) International website.
Does a doula replace nursing staff?
No. A doula does not replace nursing staff. A doula is not a medical professional. However, the doula complements the work of your nurse. The nurse and the doula work together with your partner to support you as you labour.
The highly technical function of today’s nurse lessens her ability to give the type of continuous social support that will impact outcomes. Research findings indicate that nurses spend 6.1% to 31.5% of their time giving support to laboring women. It is the continuous one-on-one aspect of doula care that has been identified as key to the improved outcomes.