A Doula is a labor companion or birth partner.
The word "doula" comes from the ancient Greek meaning "a woman who serves" and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth.
A doula is with the laboring woman for the entire labor and delivery of her child. The doula's expertise is in helping reduce anxiety, discomfort, and pain for the mother in labor. She is there as much or as little as the laboring woman needs. She is there to help the mother stick to her desired Birth Plan, whatever that may entail, so that the woman may have the type of experience she wants. She is an advocate of the mother's wishes and helps her stay informed of ongoing medical procedures.
A doula is not a doctor, nurse or midwife and is not trained to make any medical decisions. A doula's training helps her explain to the parents what happens during labor and delivery and helps relieve some of their uncertainties and anxieties.
"Continuous support from a doula during labor provides physical and emotional benefits for mothers and health bonuses for their babies. With less medical interventions, fewer complications, and shorter hospital stays, there may be financial savings as well."(Harvard Health Letter)
There are long-term benefits of Doula support. A number of studies show that a doula's care can produce important benefits.
Doula's have been shown to improve a mother's ability to cope with the pain of labor and avoid pain medication or even reduce the length of labor, her postpartum emotional state, the way she perceives the health and attitude of her new baby, her success with breastfeeding, and perception of pain at twenty-four hours after birth. (Klaus, Kennell and Klaus)
A doula also meets the needs of fathers during labor and delivery. A father may have the desire to help, participate and feel useful and important for the mother. It is difficult, at times, for a father to remain continuously calm and objective when he fears for the well-being of his loved-one. The father also has little experience with the birth process. A Doula helps the father to be less anxious and more helpful to the woman in labor. He is able to be there at his own comfort level. The birth of the baby should be a rewarding experience for the father as well as the mother.