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Doulas: Helping Hands for Childbirth

Learn about a doula’s role during labor and delivery.

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In many societies throughout history, women have helped other women give birth. They pressed cool cloths on sweaty foreheads. They grasped hands. They whispered encouragement.

But as medicine has progressed, women began giving birth in hospitals. That old-fashioned bedside support was largely replaced by monitored labor in a more clinical setting, where the pregnant woman is a patient.

Some women long for that special personal care, though. If you do, you might consider a doula. Doulas are trained labor coaches who provide support during labor, birth and for a period of time after delivery.

A special kind of care

“Doula” is taken from the Greek word meaning “a woman who serves.” Doulas work in homes, hospitals and birth centers. A doula’s job is to give emotional, physical and informational support to the mother in labor and the father-to-be.

A doula is part of the team of nurses, doctors, family and friends who may be helping with the birth. In cases where labor and delivery nurses are busy providing medical care, a doula can help keep the mother calm and offer comfort and reassurance.

Doulas stay with the mother or couple throughout labor and for a short time after childbirth. The doula can help the mother by giving massage and encouragement. The doula may suggest breathing and relaxation techniques. After birth, the doula may offer help with breastfeeding.

The benefits

Not all women have a father-to-be or partner and some fathers-to-be or partners may not be comfortable being a birth coach. They may feel unprepared or just too nervous. A doula can help the father-to-be, too, by showing him ways to help and lend support. The doula can step in when needed. Instead of feeling pressure to perform, Dad can do whatever feels comfortable and natural.

Some studies suggest that having a doula or other non-medical birth assistant may lessen the frequency of C-sections. Continuous support throughout labor has been shown to reduce the need for interventions such as forceps and epidurals. It may slightly decrease the length of labor. Women report being more satisfied with the birth experience.

Finding a doula

The couple, or single mother, usually meets with the doula in advance. This allows them to be sure the doula is a good match. And the doula can learn about the mother’s birth plan. Does she want an epidural? Does she want soft music? Whom does she want present for the birth? A doula will support the mother’s choices before and during labor.

Be sure to ask about the doula’s experience and background. What education or certification does the doula have? If you are interested in hiring a doula, talk to your obstetrician or prenatal care provider. DONA International and the International Childbirth Education Association also have resources on their websites.

Keep in mind that your insurance provider may not cover doulas. Check with your plan administrator.

By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In: Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month. 6th ed. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2015.
DONA International. What is a doula? Accessed: June 23, 2016. Pregnancy: What is a doula? Accessed: June 23, 2016.
Stuebe, A., Barbieri, R.L., UpToDate. Continuous labor support by a doula. Accessed: June 23, 2016.

Last Updated: June 24, 2016