8 things you might not know about doulas…

I am asked this question on a regular basis, usually accompanied by a confused expression and hesitant body language.

I admit, the word ‘doula’ and the idea of using one sounded strange the first time I heard it. My response was probably similar.
But what I discovered through my first pregnancy is that the concept of a doula is anything but strange. In fact, it should be the norm.

doula: /ˈduːlə/ {a woman experienced in childbirth who provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth}

1. A doula isn’t a fire dancing, goddess-chant singing, dread-locked hippy. Though there are doulas exactly like that, too. A doula is literally a woman supporting another woman in pregnancy, childbirth and post partum, and we come in all wonderful shapes and sizes and belong to all sorts of socially-defined subcultures.
2. Doulas aren’t just for birth. While birth doulas are probably the most well known, perhaps more important are the postpartum doulas. Birth doulas are trained in the physiology of pregnancy and birth, and their role is to support women during these times. Postnatal doulas care for the mother postpartum with emotional support while they adjust to newborn life. This maternal care after the birth is a fundamental aspect in preventing post natal depression. A postnatal doula may provide breastfeeding support, help to care for the newborn, assist with cooking, help mum with some housework or just chat. How long they work for depends on what the mother needs; they may continue to do this for the first six weeks or in some cases even beyond the first year.
3. A doula is not a substitute for a midwife or obstetrician. Doulas are there to support you in every way possible, but they are totally non-medical and non-midwifery. Our work is covered by our emotional, mental, physical and, if you’re so inclined, spiritual support. But anything that crosses into clinical care, even using a Doppler to hear your baby’s heart beat, is outside our scope of practice.
4. Doulas are not a new thing. All over the world and all through history there have been women who support women becoming mothers. While we haven’t always been called “doulas” (and in fact, given that translated it means “slave”, there are some who think we need a new name), the concept of being there for the mother is as old as human time.
5. Doulas make labour shorter! Yes, you read right! You can read the evidence here and here (and in many more places!).
6. Babies are healthier when mums get the continuous support in labour that doulas provide. Women who use doulas have been shown to deliver babies with higher APGAR scores, and less babies are admitted to neonatal unit, according to the Cochrane Review (1) (2).
 7. A doula is awesome in every kind of birth. It doesn’t matter whether you want an all-natural home birth, a scheduled C section or anything in between. Doulas just love the business of birthing, and her job is to support you, not a particular birth style.
8. Women who use doulas are happier with their birth experience, even if it doesn’t go ‘to plan’ (3). Doulas facilitate a sense of being cared for and a sense of being seen. Mothers aren’t treated as a number or just another birth, but with honour and respect. A doula will know when you need space, and know when you need reassurance. They won’t be checking your vitals or worrying about the baby, but will be encouraging you and believing in you. Unsurprisingly, women who use doulas report themselves as more satisfied with their births, and this in turn benefits the whole family.
1. Hodnett, E.D., Gates, S., Hofmeyr, G.J., & Sakala, C. (2012) Continuous support for women during childbirth (Review). The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
2. Campbell, D.A., Lake, M.F., Falk, M., & Backstrand, J.R.. (2006) A randomized control trial of continuous support in labor by a lay doula.  Journal of Obstetric Gynecolic & Neonatal Nursing Jul-Aug; 35 (4):456-64.
3. Hofmeyr, G.J., Nikodem, V.C., Wolman, W.L., Chalmers, B.E., & Kramer, T. (1991) Companionship to modify the clinical birth environment: effects on progress and perceptions of labour, and breastfeeding. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 98 (8): 756-764.

Anna is a certified Childbirth Educator and Doula, working in Canberra and surrounds.

© Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog, 2015. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Anna Siebert and Anna Siebert Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
About the author

Anna is a Motherhood Mentor, who works with busy mums to beat overwhelm, stop yelling and enjoy parenting. As a Childbirth Educator, Anna helps parents prepare for their birth to overcome fear, feel confident and come out the other side of birth positive and empowered. She is the founder of Calm in the Chaos, where mums learn how to feel calm, joyful and confident in modern parenting, and Preparing for Birth, where parents learn how to have a positive birth regardless of how their birth unfolds. Her mission is to take the fear out of birth and the overwhelm out of parenting. Anna runs live workshops, online courses and trainings, and is the author of Preparing for Birth.