What is a Doula?

illustration doula helping woman give birth

And do you need one when you are giving birth?

More women than ever are looking for ways to enjoy a natural birth with some rejecting heavily medicalized settings for a more relaxed home birth. Doulas are non-medical professionals who help women and families in a number of significant health experiences, including during pregnancy, labor, and birth. The support of a doula can be invaluable to women who are looking for extra emotional and practical support alongside that of their medical team. We take a closer look at the roles of doulas to help you decide if they could be an important part of your pregnancy experience, below.

What Does a Doula Offer?

A doula is someone who provides emotional and physical support to women and families. This support may be provided before, during, or after birth. Many doulas are specially trained to provide personalized support and hold accreditation. A doula may specialize in one of the following areas or offer a combination of services at different stages of a woman’s pregnancy journey.

An illustration to accompany a blog post about what a doula is. The scene features a doula providing support to a pregnant woman in a calm

Labor Doula

A labor doula provides dedicated care to women throughout the process of birth. This starts during the second or third trimester when the doula will meet with mom to help create a birthing plan, discuss any concerns, and work on breathing techniques. During the labor itself, a doula can provide emotional support and physical comfort. This may include massage and relaxation therapies, nutrition and hydration advice, guidance on positions to take, communication with the medical team, and reassurance for a birthing partner.

Antepartum Doula

Antepartum doulas support mothers before their babies arrive – this is usually in cases where a mom is on fulltime bedrest or engaged in another type of medical care due to pregnancy complications. This type of doula may provide practical assistance with housework and childcare as well as providing generalized pregnancy advice and emotional support.

Postpartum Doula

Postpartum doulas support new moms in the first few weeks after birth. This can, again, include practical support with housework, nutrition, and hydration. They can also provide advice on how to care for a newborn, breastfeeding coaching, and more general support for dads, partners, and the wider family.

Can a Doula Deliver My Baby?

No, a doula is not the same as a midwife or obstetrician. They are not qualified to provide medical support and should work in conjunction with your medical team. A doula shouldn’t examine you or give medical recommendations. However, they can work with you to discuss your preferences around birth and help to communicate these needs effectively to your medical team.

How Do I Choose a Doula?

Most doulas will suggest an initial interview to discuss your needs and find out if you are a good match. Choosing a doula is a very personal experience and there are all types of doulas helping women around the world. This person is going to be a huge part of one of the most intimate experiences of your life, so it isn’t a decision that should be taken quickly or lightly. It’s a good idea to interview several doulas before you make your final choice. These are some of the questions you might want to ask a potential doula when you meet:

  • How long have you been a doula (and how many mothers have you supported)?
  • Do you have accreditation? If yes, where is it from?
  • What are your key values as a doula?
  • What services do you offer?
  • What is your availability?
  • Can you outline your fees?
  • Are you insured?
  • What is your childbirth philosophy?
  • Do you have a backup if you are engaged in another birth when I go into labor?

What Are The Benefits of Choosing a Doula?

For some women, the right doula is a central part of a positive birth experience. Others want to keep the moment as private as possible – sharing it only with their partner and medical team. These are some of the benefits of choosing a talented doula to provide support before, during, or after labor.

Physical Support

Most doulas have attended many births and they understand the physical processes moms are going through as they bring new life into the world. This helps them to advise on everything from comfortable positions to breathing techniques. Many also offer massage and relaxation methods – including hypnobirthing – that can help moms to enjoy a drug-free birth (where this is their preference).

Emotional Care

Birth is so much more than a physical experience. The emotional support that a doula provides, not only to mom but to the wider family, can be invaluable. By being a nurturing and supportive presence from before birth through labor and beyond, a doula can provide much-needed emotional reassurance every step of the way.

Partner Reassurance

Partners can feel overwhelmed by the changes their partners are going through during pregnancy and labor. They are also often unsure of how they can best provide support. A doula can help to gently guide them through this unique experience, allowing them to give mom the best possible care.


It can be difficult for women to be their own advocates during the intense experience of childbirth. Doulas can fill this role, supporting women as they create an implement a highly personal birthing plan. They can liaise with a woman’s medical team, ensuring she gets the type of care and level of medical intervention that she has requested.

More Likely to Enjoy a Positive Birthing Experience

The American Pregnancy Association reported on a number of studies regarding the use of doulas. Women who chose to engage doulas were more likely to report positive birthing experiences, less likely to require a cesarean section, and less likely to require pain medication.

How Can I Find a Doula?

If you’re looking for a doula, there are several accreditation schemes to consider. The most well-known is DONA International. They train doulas around the world and describe themselves as ‘the leader in evidence-based doula training, certification and continuing education.’ Their website includes a search function and allows women to locate doulas in their area. It’s also useful to speak to other moms in your area – a personal recommendation is a great way to connect with a doula.

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