What does a Doula do?

Beverley Hinton, NCT Doula, looks at the role of a Doula during pregnancy, labour and birth.

[quote align=”” width=”100%”]Doula is a Greek word whose definition has come to mean a woman who helps other women. The word has further evolved to mean a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during and after childbirth.(1)[/quote]

Non-medical women supporting women to give birth is an ancient practice that is still widespread all over the world today. Traditionally it was a close family member, a sister or mother, who would provide a woman with continuous support throughout pregnancy, labour and birth. Sadly, as maternity care has improved, this vital link between women has been lost. The move of birth from home to hospital, the distance between family members, and the importance of father’s involvement, means that women are often left without female support.

Changes in maternity care mean that women might not see the same midwife twice, and will probably have a midwife helping them during labour that they have never met before. Midwives do their upmost to be there for the women they care for, but unfortunately, the demands of the job mean they cannot offer continuous support throughout pregnancy, labour, and birth.

This is where a Doula comes in. Simply, a Doula’s role is to be there, to support you as you need her, from when you book her until six weeks after the birth. She will meet with you during late pregnancy, come to your house as labour progresses, stay with you throughout your labour and for a short time after the birth, and meet you postnatally to discuss the events!

Studies show that having a doula has benefits for both mother and baby (2), including:-

  • Shortens first-time labour by an average of 2 hours
  • Decreases the chance of caesarean section by 50%
  • Decreases the need for pain medication
  • Helps fathers participate with confidence
  • Increases success in breastfeeding


A doula’s work begins in the later stages of pregnancy. During an initial meeting the woman, her partner and the doula will begin to get to know each other. The doula will start to get a feel for any worries or fears, hopes or dreams the couple have, providing an opportunity to talk them through.

During subsequent meetings they will build a detailed birth plan, and talk about what support would help them to fulfil these plans.

They might take time to learn, and practice some practical skills such as breathing, massage and positioning, or could talk about other positive ideas, such as nesting, visualisation, relaxation and anything else they are interested in.

One of the most important roles of a doula is to enable a woman to approach the birth of her baby feeling relaxed, positive and prepared. The woman can look forward to labour beginning, aware that she has someone she knows and trusts who is only a phone call away.

Once the labour begins, there is no set role of a doula; she is entirely there to meet the couple’s needs. A woman might ask her to sit and guard her labouring space, or provide support to the partner who is supporting the woman, or she might be asked to offer physical support, massaging or holding the woman. Most importantly a doula encourages the woman to let her own body tell her what may be best during the labour.

Doulas often work alongside the woman’s partner, and are not meant to be a substitute. So much is expected of a partner, who often has no experience of childbirth. A doula will be there to support the partner as well, making sure they can approach the birth feeling positive, and are able to enjoy the experience and take on a support role they feel comfortable with.

  • Klaus, M. H.,Kennell, J. H. and Klaus, P. H. (2002) The doula book. Cambridge, Perseus Book Group. p. VI
  • Klaus, M. H.,Kennell, J. H. and Klaus, P. H. (2002) The doula book. Cambridge, Perseus Book Group. Chapter 5