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What is a Doula?

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“A doula is a woman without medical experience who guides and assists a new mother in childbirth and babycare tasks. The doula’s role is to hold the woman, breathe with her, smile at her and provide encouragement and reassurance.” [Supporting women in labour: the doula's role. in Modern Midwife. By Nolan M. 1995 Mar. 5(3):12-15)]

Historically, the word DOULA comes from the Greek word Doule. In Greek it refers to a woman serving another woman and has negative connotations, denoting “a female slave”.

Anthropologist Dana Raphael first used the term doula to refer to experienced mothers who assisted new mothers in breastfeeding and newborn care in the book Tender Gift: Breastfeeding (1973).

Doctors, Marshall Klaus and John Kennell, who conducted the first of several randomized clinical trials on the medical outcomes of doula attended births, adopted the term in the 1970s to refer to labour, prenatal and postpartum support.

Today the word has been re-claimed and is understood in English as to mean: a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during, and just after childbirth. [The doula book: how a trained labor companion can help you have a shorter, easier, and healthier birth. By Klaus, Kennell and Klaus. Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Pub, 2002]

Doulas are non-medical professionals who support women and their families during pregnancy, childbirth and in the first few months of the life of their new baby. Doulas are usually either Birth Doulas or Postpartum Doulas (although sometimes they provide both services). They provide very different, yet vital roles during the perinatal period. Birth Doulas provide prenatal support, are there continuously during labour and birth, and help with initial postpartum concerns. Postpartum Doulas provide the important ongoing support after the baby’s birth at home while a new family adjusts to life with a newborn.