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The Role of a Doula

"Doula"-a Greek word meaning "Woman's servant." In birth and postpartum care, "doula" refers to a supportive companion (not a friend or loved one) professionally trained to provide support.

The Birth Doula
"In nearly every culture throughout history, women have been surrounded and cared for by other women during childbirth. Artistic representations of birth throughout the world usually include at least two other women, surrounding and supporting the birthing woman. One of these women is the midwife, who is responsible for the safe passage of the mother and baby; the other woman or women are behind or beside the mother, holding and comforting her. The modern doula is a manifestation of the woman beside the mother. Doulas are trained and experienced in childbirth, although they may or may not have given birth themselves.

The doula's role is to provide physical, emotional, and informational support to women and their partners during labor and birth. The doula offers help and advice on comfort measures such as breathing, relaxation, movement and positioning. She also assists families to gather information about the course of their labor and their options. Perhaps the most crucial role of the doula is providing continuous emotional reassurance and comfort. Doulas specialize in non-medical skills and do not perform clinical tasks, such as vaginal exams or fetal heart rate monitoring. Doulas do not diagnose medical conditions, offer second opinions, or give medical advice. Most importantly, doulas do not make decisions for their clients; they do not project their own values and goals onto the laboring woman. The doula's goal is to help the woman have a safe and satisfying childbirth as the woman defines it."(1)

The Postpartum Doula
Doulas are trained in postpartum adjustment, newborn characteristics, care, feeding, and development, and the promotion of parent-infant bonding. They are experienced in supporting families through their postpartum experience. Coming into the home during the fourth trimester following birth, the doula’s role is to provide education, non-judgmental support, and companionship, and to assist with newborn care and family adjustment, meal preparation and light household tasks. Postpartum doulas offer evidence-based information on infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from childbirth, infant soothing and coping skills for new parents and can make appropriate referrals when necessary.

The doula can serve as a "buffer" for new parents, who receive a great deal of unsolicited and possibly outdated advice. The doula can help friends and family members to foster and support the parenting decisions of the new parents. By modeling a deep respect for the wisdom and decision making abilities of the new parents, she makes clear that supporting them in their own choices will have the best possible results.

By dedicating herself to the family in this way, the doula validates and enhances the parents’ intuitive ability to nurture and encourages them to develop and implement their own parenting style."(2)

Please note that all content on this page was was taken from the DONA (Doulas of North America) (1) Position Paper: The Doula's Contribution to Modern Maternity Care and (2) Position Paper: The Postpartum Doula's Role in Maternity Care, ©DONA 2002. Full copies of the documents can be found at DONA.org.

Did You Know?
Home births have been shown to be safer than hospital birth for healthy moms???
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If a Doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.
- John H. Kennell, MD

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