"Doula" (pronounced "doola") is a Greek word meaning "woman servant or caregiver". It now refers to an experienced woman who offers emotional, practical, physical and informational support to a woman (or couple) before, during and after childbirth. A doula believes in “mothering the mother” - enabling a woman to have the most satisfying, memorable and empowered time that she can during pregnancy, birth and the early days as a new mother. This type of support also helps the whole family to relax and enjoy the experience.
Nowadays most doulas undertake some training. Birth doulas are experienced in childbirth, although they may or may not have given birth themselves. They have a good knowledge in the medical aspect of labour and delivery and awareness of female physiology so they can help their clients get a better understanding of procedures and complications that may arise in late pregnancy or during delivery. However, the doula is not supporting the mother in a clinical role - that is the job of the midwife/medical staff. Postnatal doulas work flexible hours to suit the family, offering practical and emotional support to the new mother and father in the home following the birth of baby.
Many research studies have confirmed the benefits of having a doula present during labour. The Cochrane Review published on 16th February 2011 states:
“Women who received continuous labour support were more likely to give birth 'spontaneously', i.e. give birth with neither caesarean nor vacuum nor forceps. In addition, women were less likely to use pain medications, were more likely to be satisfied, and had slightly shorter labours”.
In addition, research taken from “Mothering the Mother” by Klaus, Kennell & Klaus, 1993 has shown that having a doula present at a birth:
• Shortens first time labour by an average of 2 hours
• Decreases the chance of a caesarean section by 50%
• Decreases the need for pain medication
• Helps fathers participate with confidence
• Increases success in breastfeeding
• Caesarean deliveries – No doula (18%), doula present (8%)
• Forceps delivery – No doula (26%), doula present (8%)
• Epidural – No doula (55%), doula present (8%)
• Prolonged breastfeeding – No doula (29%), doula support (51%)
Some vital statistics from Kennell J, Klaus M, McGrath S, Robertson S, Hinkley C. JAMA 1991 May 1;265(17):2197-201
© Doula in London (Nike Bielby)