What exactly is a doula?

Doulas: the women whose job it is to "mother the mother" 

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By Lynn Enright on

It’s World Doula Week, a week to celebrate and acknowledge the work done by doulas, a week that also leaves some scratching their heads: what exactly is a doula? And what does a doula do?

The Pool spoke to Bridget Baker of Doula UK, a woman who has been working as a doula for 43 years, to get the lowdown. 

  1. What exactly is a doula?
    A doula is usually a woman who is a lay supporter of pregnant women and couples, at the birth and often post-natally. The phrase we use is “mothering the mother”, that’s what she does. She builds a relationship with the woman during pregnancy and she is there when the woman goes into labour to offer emotional and physical support. She has no clinical responsibility. Often it’s just having that quiet presence of someone you know and trust to support you through the labour and  that’s all you need. It can keep everything low-key and allow the right space and the right atmosphere for the woman to birth and have the baby happily
  2. And do doulas just attend home births?
    No, every type of birth. Home, hospital, birth centre.
  3. So if someone is going into labour and they call their doula, what does the doula do?
    Usually a woman will let her doula know when she gets very early signs of labour, and the doula may go straight over to the house if that’s what the client wants, or they’ll keep in touch by text and phone. Then once labour gets going seriously, then the doula will do everything in her power to stay with the woman until the baby is born, so whether the midwife is coming to the house or whether they’re going into hospital together, the doula will stay.
  4. And the doula just provides a supportive role?
    Yes, she does everything that your mum would do for you, and more.    
  5. Why do people turn to a doula instead of a family member or a friend?
    There is very strong evidence that having the continuous presence of someone who isn’t a friend or a family member is more effective. And doulas really understand about birth and the hormones involved whereas a friend might not… 
  6. Is there any tension between midwives and doulas? 
    There can be, yes, but on the whole, we work very well with midwives and most midwives are very happy to have us.
  7. Where does the word doula come from? 
    It’s a Greek word which basically means “bonded slave” but nobody refers to it as that anymore. 
  8. You’ve been doing this for more than four decades. You must love it. Do you? 
    Yes, I do. It’s just such  a privilege to work with couples but women in particular, through that wonderful experience of having a baby, and to try and make it as smooth and pleasant as possible. Sometimes births are really hard and there’s nothing much you can do about it but the joy of sharing the power of a woman in labour and helping her to achieve what she whats to want to achieve is just amazing.
  9. Is there a specific training for doulas? 
    In Doula UK, we prefer to refer to preparation courses rather than training. Some doulas do refer to themselves as “qualified” but in a way you never qualify because you go on learning. It’s not so much a profession as a vocation.
  10. How much does it cost to enlist a doula?
    It varies. You might have a mentor doula who is very new and she may charge as little as £200 to go on call for a month. It’s usually a month: a doula goes on call at about 38 weeks, earlier if it’s twins, and you stay on call until she has had the baby. And the doula is with you through the birth, whether it’s three hours or three days.  
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