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What is a Doula?

Written by Amina Hatia RM
Medically reviewed by Marley Hall BA RM Diphe
September 06, 2022

What does a Doula mean?

If you have been thinking about planning for your labour and birth and are looking into your options, you may have come across the term doula already. A doula is the term used to refer to someone who provides support to women and birthing people during their pregnancy, labour and birth, and in the postnatal period after the birth of baby.

Doulas are often people with a range of experience regarding supporting people during their birth and may have completed some training about supporting people. It is important to be aware that the role of the doula is not a clinical role, and they are not medically trained, their role is to provide support and emotional care.

How are doulas different from midwives?

Midwives are trained healthcare professionals who provide clinical advice and care during your pregnancy, labour, birth and postnatal journey. In the UK, they are the lead healthcare professionals alongside Obstetricians involved in your care when you are having a baby.

A doula is different to a midwife because they do not provide clinical advice or care, their role is to provide practical and emotional support. Whilst doulas will not give advice regarding your clinical care, they will support you in finding unbiased information so you are able to make informed decisions.

Doulas and midwives work together in providing you with all of the support you need.

What’s the role of doulas and what do they do?

Doulas offer a range of support and some may specialise in one area of care only such as a postnatal doula or birth doula.

Wherever they are providing support, their role is to provide you with practical and emotional support and accompany you on your pregnancy, birth and new parenting journey.

They’re role is to ensure you feel supported and prepared, providing you with information, helping you determine what you need during your labour, birth or postnatal journey and supporting you in achieving this.

Doula’s work alongside your midwife and doctors, they will not give clinical advice or care but can help you in navigating your options for care to make decisions that are informed and feel right for you.

Whilst doulas provide individualised care based on your needs in general:

A birth doula may provide:

  • Support in the antenatal period in preparing for birth
  • Practical and physical comfort during the labour and birth process
  • Provide one-to-one support for you based on your needs
  • Emotional support and reassurance
  • Information on what is happening, what to expect and your choices.
  • Communicate to your midwives and doctors what your needs are based on your discussions beforehand and also communicate to you what your midwives/doctors are advising in an unbiased and supportive role. provide practical and emotional support

A Postnatal doula can:

  • Provide you with support – both emotional and practical soon after the birth of your baby
  • Help you in feeding your baby – however you choose to this
  • Provide breastfeeding support if needed
  • Assist you in caring for you baby
  • Advise on practical aspects of newborn care such as bathing your baby
  • Support you in discussing your birth experience and finding further support if you need it such as debriefing service

What are the advantages of having a doula?

This will depend on why you are looking for doula support and can vary from person to person.

For some, the advantages of having a doula is having someone with you who you have gotten to know and trust during labour and birth. Having someone you trust and can rely on can make you feel confident and calm, leading to a more positive birth outcome. This can be your partner, a family member or friend, your midwife or a doula.

Doulas also offer continuity of care and support, which many people find valuable especially if you have not had the same team of midwives during your antenatal care or have seen different people each time. Research highlights that continuous support in labour and birth leads to shorter labours, less need for pain relief and less interventions such as assisted or c-section birth.

A doula is there for you and to provide you with what you need so that you feel comfortable, encouraged, supported and empowered for the birth of your baby and life as a new parent.

Do people generally enjoy having a doula?

As midwives we know that when people are supported and feel confident and safe in their care, they have better birth and postnatal experiences. Having a doula can really help with this and many who have had a doula in their birth or postnatal journey will say their support was invaluable and positive.

How do I know if a doula is right for me?

This is a very personal decision – your gut feeling, how they make you feel and what you need from them is all key in knowing if a doula is right for you.

Research different kinds of doulas and meet them beforehand to see if you both fit – personalities, communication style, cultural sensitivities, experience will all matter in finding the right person.

And it’s ok to say to a doula too if they don’t feel the right fit – your doula wants you to feel confident and supported and will understand if the fit isn’t right for you.

How much do doulas cost?

As most doulas are self-employed and paid directly this will vary considerably based on the experience of the doula, what you require of them, where they are based, what they are offering and how long you need them for.

Some may have a fixed price for the service they offer whilst others may charge an hourly or daily rate.

Some doulas are employed by the NHS and are able to provide a free or subsidised service to those who meet the criteria for their service.

There are also organisations such as Doulas Without Borders who have a network of voluntary doulas across the UK, that can provide free doula services to pregnant women and people with vulnerable needs such a homelessness, from refugee communities or in a refuge.

How can I find a doula?

Doula UK is an association of doulas in the UK that can help you find a doula that has completed a Doula UK approved preparation course. Head over to their page for further details:

What questions might I ask potential doulas to help find the right fit for me?

You’ve guessed it! – This again will depend on what and why you are looking for a doula.

Things to consider are:

  • When and how will they be available? – Will they be on call for you alone or will there be a chance they may have another client to look after at the same time
  • What training have they had – are they registered with an organisation such as Doula UK?
  • What their experience is – if you have specific needs such as a planned c-section do they have experience of this?
  • Do they have any additional skills to offer – such as reflexology, massage, aromatherapy?
  • What support are they offering and how – is it on a need basis or do you need to commit to a package/certain hours
  • What if your birth plan changes – if you have hired a birth doula but end up needing a planned c-section what can they offer instead?
  • What do they not offer – always good to know what these are too

Are doulas insured?

This depends on if they are a member of an organisation such as Doula UK or have organised their own insurance. It is always best to check and ask them for details regarding insurance.