What on Earth is a Doula?

So you’re having a baby and you’re digging around online to find out how you want to do this thing. And you stumble across the word “doula.”

Whaaa is that, you wonder.

Curious, you keep reading. Or maybe a friend tells you about their awesome doula-ed birth. At some point you realize you might just want your very own doula at your birth.

But you need some more info first. Very reasonable thinking, there.

Here’s the low-down on the whole doula thing.

What on Earth is a Doula

Not Boring Definition


Yeah, okay. So definitions are kind of boring. But you’ll want to stick around for this one, because it’s at least a little interesting.

That odd word “doula”? It’s Greek and means “servant to women.”

Kind of old-fashioned terminology, I know. But the idea is that doulas are there to accompany birthing folks on the long and sometimes confusing journey through pregnancy, labor, birth, and even those first weeks with a squirmy newborn.


So What Do Doulas Actually Do?


It sounds all nice and stuff to hear about doulas being a companion. But what does that really look like?

Doulas are your pregnancy and birth BFFs, really. They know a lot of information about all this birthing stuff, plus they actually understand how you might feel.

  • You’ve got questions about all the things? They can help you find the answers.

  • You’re worried about something not feeling normal? They’ll listen to your fears, then help you track down resources to the solutions. (And sometimes help you know that it is normal after all. Rest easy.)

  • Feeling anxious and unheard? They’ll listen and give you the kind of feedback that makes you feel cared for and heard.

  • They’ll listen to your labor and birth preferences, help you come up with a plan, and teach you relaxation techniques.

  • They’ll hold your hand, if you want. They’ll rub your back during labor. They’ll even get into strenuous positions just to hold you up when you need someone to lean on.

  • If your partner is feeling anxious and unsure of what to do, they can help guide their hands and direct their efforts.

  • Once baby shows up earthside, you can put them on speed dial for concerns with breastfeeding, questions about normal newborn behavior, and support if something isn’t going well.


What’s the Research on Doulas?


Sure, sure. I get it. The support doulas give sounds nice and all. But how practical is it really? Will doula support actually make your birth better or can you just get by with the standard team of health providers?

Well, one thing to make clear is that a doula isn’t a medical person. They’re trained in emotional, mental, physical support… but they can’t (and won’t) do anything that crosses over into “medical” territory.

But the research shows all the awesome ways that doulas make birth a better experience for you. (I know research can be boring, so I’ll make it quick.)

A recent study that included 15,000+ women, showed that those that had the continuous support of a doula were:

  • More likely to have a “vaginal spontaneous delivery,” meaning that doctors didn’t need to intervene to pull baby out.

  • Less likely to end up using “intrapartum analgesia,” meaning the women decided they didn’t want or need pain relief via medication during labor and birth (aka epidural, etc.)

  • Less likely to feel dissatisfied with their births (which is a similar finding to another study that shows that when women feel truly supported, they see their births more positively no matter what their birth outcome might be)

  • Their labors were shorter overall (can I get a yessssss?!)

  • Their cesarean rates decreased (another cheer)

  • And their babies were less likely to have low Apgar scores (the test they do with babies after birth to see how responsive they are - determines if they need immediate extra medical help or not).

There are so many studies out there that show over and over how great doulas are for folks giving birth (and for other stages of life, too).

It turns out that having compassionate support through tricky life experiences seems to be really good for us.

Doulas Are Awesome

Yes, it’s true. It’s been said, “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” (You can read more about the awesome doctor who said that right here.)

Want more info? Check out this fab video created by DONA International that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about doulas.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think about doulas and how they help pregnant and birthing folks and new parents?

Sarah BraunComment