What is a Doula

Definition of a Doula according to Doulas of North America

A trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.

What does a Doula do?

WOMBS Doulas from Left – Harriet, Charlene and Lana (2017)

Some people say a Midwife is from the waist down and a Doula is from the waist up! While this is not entirely true, it does help get the idea of how the roles differ. The meaning of “Midwife” is to be “With Woman” whereas the meaning of Doula is “in service of woman” which also gives you an idea of the differences between them. Here are some more questions that people often ask when it comes to the roles of a Doula and Midwife.

Can a Doula deliver my Baby?

No. A Doula my be very well educated about medical procedures but she is not a medical professional. She can guide and support your decisions around medical procedures but she will never perform them herself. A Midwife is a trained medical professional with both the knowledge and skill to safely deliver a baby. A Midwife is also very capable of offering gentle, motherly support during labour but she will need to be focused on your baby as well during the whole process. A Doula is devoted entirely to the support of both the mother and father (or other birth partner) without needing to focus on the medical well being of mother and baby.

How do doctors and other medical professionals feel about Doulas?

The majority of doctors and other staff find them to be an asset to the team and it is for this reason that some facilities will insist that your doula be registered with a doula organisation. However, there have been cases (not just in South Africa) where untrained doulas have over-stepped their role in a birth and this has led to all doulas becoming banned from a facility.

A Doula will know that she may not do things like make decisions for you, speak to doctors or nurses on your behalf or refuse/give consent for procedures. Again this comes back to understanding the role of a doula as one who supports the mother & father/birth partner through the process, unlike a Midwife or Doctor who will make medical decisions or interventions.

What if my doctor or midwife doesn’t work with Doulas?

If your doctor or midwife does not work with a Doula then it is important to find out why this is. If it is due to past experience that was negative then it may be of use to contact your local Doula Organisation to ask if they can approach this care provider in order to discuss the problem. If your doctor/midwife simply does not wish to allow you to have additional support, then its important to ask yourself if this is really the right person to be delivering your baby. You need to think about what motivation this care provider might have to not want an experienced support person with you to help you explore your options and make informed decisions.

Do I need a Midwife and a Doula?

This is down to your financial position and also personal preference. When under the care of a private midwife you will receive individualised care and will be her only client she attends during birth, so having a doula in addition to a midwife might not be a necessity.

In some cases, where the mother doesn’t have a partner who will attend the birth, then a doula can be the perfect person to fill this role. As previously mentioned, the midwife is also focused on the medical care of both the mother and baby so having an emotionally supportive birth partner is of benefit.