What is a Doula?

what is a doula

Many in the natural parenting community may have stumbled upon this word at some point in their parenting journey. Modern day doulas are still a fairly new trend and I still get asked all the time, “What is a doula?”

The word doula comes from greek – it was used to refer to a woman’s close, personal servant.

Today the word doula refers to a professional labor support person. Doulas provide informational, emotional and physical support during pregnancy, the birth, and beyond. There are birth doulas that focus primarily on pregnancy, birth, and immediate postpartum. There are also Postpartum Doulas that specialize in supporting the newborn and family. Many doulas are trained for all of the above!

Doulas of North America defines a doula as the following:

A Birth Doula

  • Recognizes birth as a key experience the mother will remember all her life
  • Understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor
  • Assists the woman in preparing for and carrying out her plans for birth
  • Stays with the woman throughout the labor
  • Provides emotional support, physical comfort measures and an objective viewpoint, as well as helping the woman get the information she needs to make informed decisions
  • Facilitates communication between the laboring woman, her partner and her clinical care providers
  • Perceives her role as nurturing and protecting the woman’s memory of the birth experience
  • Allows the woman’s partner to participate at his/her comfort level

The support of a doula provides many benefits to the mother, and her support persons. Statistically women who have a doula experience the following during birth:

  • Shorter labors
  • Less interventions, including induction,augmentation and assisted deliveries
  • Lower Cesarean Section Rates
  • More successful breastfeeding experience
  • Less need for pain mediation
  • More positive feelings associated with their birth experience
  • Less risk of postpartum mental disorders
  • More confidence as a parent

Any woman can benefit from the support of a doula. Even if you plan to have an epidural A.S.A.P., have an elective cesarean scheduled, or if things don’t go as planned. There is a  terrific article on the International Cesarean Awareness Network blog about doula support during a planned cesarean.

If you would like to know more about doulas, or meet some in our community the West Michigan Doulas Co-op  holds a Materni-tea the first Saturday of the month at 1pm and the third Thursday of the month at 6pm at Hopscotch Childrens Store. You can even check the growing list of local doulas here on GRNL’s local doula directory.

More resources from the DONA website:

  • Lying in, Canadian Medical Association Journal, September 17, 2002


Blog photo credit Jennifer Holshoe Photography


About Stephanie

I provide Birth Doula (Professional Labor Support) services to families in the Grand Rapids Area. I hope to empower my clients to have a satisfying and safe birth experience, propelling them with confidence into motherhood by encouraging self-education, and empowering the mother through consistent emotional and physical support during the birth and beyond. Bellabirth Doula Services


  1. While a Doula is admirable and a really good idea, I would like to see more emphasis also be placed on Mother’s nutrition, behavior modification (For example smoking mothers), pre-birth music (it is well known that music helps produce smarter kids) exercise and establishing routines before birth. Also this time before birth should also be used to establish a program of action on how the child is fed and cared for within the first two years. For example how to deal with colic, teething and its effects on sleep, transition to solid food, sudden fevers, and establishing routines that foster stability in the child. Also some long term advise on how to avoid Red#40, HFC and using natural remedies like Apple Cider Vinegar to cure common ailments lime a cold or sore throat.

  2. Cinnamon Vogue–Those are all good points! This post specifically covers the question: What is a Doula? A doula can help parents educate themselves, but they’re not a substitute for a care provider or a child birth education class which would address a lt of the topics you mentioned. I will be guest posting to this website often. If you have suggestions of things you think moms should know about natural birth and parenting let me know!

  3. I sure wish I had known what a doula was with my first baby – I have a feeling things may have turned out a bit differently. 🙂