What is a doula?
The word "Doula" (Greek in origin) was traditionally used to signify a woman servant or caregiver who attended women during birth and the postpartum period. Nowadays the word “doula” is used to describe someone who attends women during labour and after the birth, but the emphasis now is as much on assisting the empowerment of women through the birthing process as it is on providing practical physical and emotional support.
There are two categories of doulas:
- Birth Doulas - These doulas work with women during the antenatal and labour/birth period.
- Postpartum Doulas / Postnatal Doulas - These doulas work with women after the birth.
What does a Birth Doula do?
A birth doula is a professional birth assistant (often a mother herself) who, during pregnancy and birth, provides:
• Emotional support (continuous support, reassurance and encouragement)
• Informational support (information gathering, explanation of procedures)
• Physical support (comfort measures, massage, physical support, relaxation and positioning etc.)
By providing continuous support through pregnancy, birth and beyond, doulas positively impact the childbearing experience for women and their families and reaffirm women's ability to give birth. Doula care is tailored to the individual needs of a mother, which is determined through pregnancy as the doula and mother/couple build a relationship. Doulas are highly supportive of the midwifery model of care and together with the midwives can form an effective team for the mother. Doulas, unlike midwives, do not perform clinical or medical tasks, diagnose medical conditions or give medical advice. Because a doula is employed directly by you she is an independent source of support and is there solely for your benefit.
During pregnancy you will have developed a relationship with your doula. She will come over to your house during the early stages of labour if you wish, remain with you during labour and birth, and usually for at least an hour afterwards to help establish breastfeeding as required.
A debriefing visit will also be arranged at the mother's convenience after the birth.
At a minimum you can expect from your birth doula:
• At least one antenatal appointment
• Ongoing phone / text / e-mail contact
• On call 24/7 for two weeks before your estimated birth date until the birth (unless otherwise agreed)
• Attend you in your home in labour if you wish
• Transfer with you to hospital* and remain with you until at least one hour after the birth
• One postpartum visit (usually at home)
What does a Postpartum Doula do?
A postpartum doula is professionally trained to provide support, encouragement, and practical help to the mother and her family as they adapt to their new roles and circumstances in the “Fourth Trimester”, or the first months after the birth.
A postpartum doula “mothers the mother”, providing a sympathetic ear and companionship, non-judgmental support and evidence-based information, along with very practical support. The doula nurtures the mother so she can better nurture her baby and helps the family adjust to their “new normal”. She offers infant soothing and coping skills, enabling parents to build their confidence and connect with their new babies.
You can expect your postpartum doula to:
• Provide in-home care from birth up to three months, depending on your needs.
• Meet once before the due date.
• Be on-call two weeks before the due date and be available to begin service 48 hours after birth.
• Create a package to suit your individual needs (e.g. 4 hours a day, 4 days a week).
Postpartum doulas provide great support and assistance as the new parents begin their journey into parenthood.
Each woman and each pregnancy, birth and postpartum period is very different. Doulas are very respectful of this and so will work together with you to individually tailor your care to your own specific requirements.
Here are some of the services postpartum doulas provide:
- Maternal care - emotional support, knowledge of postpartum health and recovery from birth, evidence-based information on infant feeding, breastfeeding support
- Newborn care - bathing, changing, feeding and comforting
- Household tasks - light housekeeping, meal preparation, grocery shopping
- Undisturbed rest time while someone listens for the baby
- Timely referrals to vetted professionals when required
What about the partner?
Partners are some of a doula's biggest fans! Many women feel a strong need to have their partners present for labour and birth because of the strong emotional bond they share. Sometimes, however, partners may feel anxious or stressed by the responsibility they feel towards their loved one as they advance through labour. By having a doula present partners become more confident by the information and reassurance provided, less overwhelmed and more effective in their ability to support their loved one.
I was so happy to have Mary [the doula] with us throughout the birth; she was great support to my wife and I felt so relaxed knowing she was there. It was a long birth so I got to rest for a while because Mary covering my wife's needs. The piece of mind knowing that someone is there to help guide and support us both through this amazing time was well worth it. I'd recommend a doula to all dads. - Joseph, Cork
*Maternity units in hospital may have a one-birth-partner policy. We suggest expectant mothers wishing to have a doula plus her partner to contact your local Director of Midwifery letting him / her know of your wishes. Normally the hospital will be accommodating to the request and sometimes they wish to clarify with the mother the role of a doula.