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The concept of a doula is not new. Personal support by a close friend or relative through labor is a tradition that goes back many years in all cultures. Some women do not live in close-knit communities where their sisters, mothers, aunts, and friends are there to support them through pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood; these events can be scary and can make a woman feel lost if she has to experience them alone.

A doula helps fill this gap by providing support to the woman and her partner or support system throughout the childbearing year. A doula does not replace the support system; instead, they help support them so that they can focus on loving and encouraging the laboring woman. Doulas can serve as a source of information during pregnancy, labor and birth. A doula assists families in gathering information about their pregnancy, labor and the options available for delivery.

Doulas can be trained and experienced in childbirth, however, in most countries there is no government regulation of their training. Their goal is to provide continuous physical, emotional, and informational support before and during labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period. The intent of a doula is to help the woman have a safe and satisfying experience, as the woman defines it.

A labor doula or birth doula is someone who provides non-medical support (physical and emotional) to a woman leading up to and during her labor and delivery, an aspect of care that was traditionally practiced in midwifery. A labor doula may attend a woman having a home birth or a woman laboring at home before transporting to a hospital or a birth center, where she will continue support.

 

Doulas do not perform clinical duties such as heart rate checks or vaginal exams, or give medical advice. Labor doulas rely on techniques like massage, aromatherapy, visualization, positive positioning, emotional support, encouragement, and nurturing to help women through labor. Many offer phone and email support as well as prenatal and postpartum visits to ensure the mother is informed and supported. The doula is also an ally for the father or partner, who may have little experience with the labor process.

Often the doula will help the partner find ways to support the laboring woman. Studies have shown that childbirth education can help reduce paternal anxiety and one of the doula's roles is to educate. A responsible doula supports, encourages, and educates the father or partner in his or her support style rather than replacing them.

A postpartum doula a.k.a. postnatal doula provides support to the mother and family following the birth and immediate postpartum period. This can be for a few days or up to and beyond six weeks, depending on need. This may include breastfeeding support, newborn care assistance, cooking, light housekeeping and errands. She offers education, companionship and nonjudgmental support during for the few weeks following the birth.