A doula (pronounced "doola") is a professional labour supporter and/or postnatal helper. A birth doula provides support and acts as your advocate during labour, while a postnatal doula visits you after the birth to help out and to support you with breastfeeding. Most doulas in the UK have received specialist training in labour support, and are members of a professional organisation - see below.
A doula's role may be described as "mothering the mother". In labour, she may suggest ways that the mother could use movement or breathing, for instance, but she does not offer medical advice. For more information about what doulas can, and cannot, do, please see Doula UK. Often, doulas help look after the mother's older children, so that the father can devote his attentions to the labouring woman. Sometimes it works the other way, and the father has the children while the doula is there just for the mother, who knows that this birth friend is there just for her - a woman supporting another woman through labour, as they have done throughout history.
It is considerate to inform your midwife if you are hiring a doula, and to think about the way they will work together. Independent midwives may be familiar with the way that doulas work, but many NHS midwives may not. One of the situations where a doula could be most helpful is where you are uncertain which midwife will attend you in labour - eg if you are booked with a team of midwives. A doula could provide continuity and support for you, even if your midwife is a stranger. In theory there should not be any professional conflict, as the doula is there to support you, rather than to offer advice about childbirth.
Here are some comments from doulas, about why they are a force for good!
A birth doula is as much there for the father as she is for the mother. We are there far earlier than any midwife in a homebirth or a hospital transfer. ..A doula should NEVER give advice.... if she does she is over-stepping her role.
In 2005 at least 1000 women had doulas... we are becoming far more mainstream and accepted - there are 230 Doula UK members.... and with less than 10% caesarean when a doula is present (data from the 2004 survey) and doulas available for every woman (as we don't always charge!) Our aim is to help women get the birth they want and deserve !
co-chair Doula UK
My name is Kate Woods and I live in Glastonbury, Somerset, and work as a Doula.
I am passionate about homebirths and have attended many in my local area.I qualified in 1998 with Michel Odent and continue to study in areas such as Massage for Labour, Active Birth and The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers.
I am a member of Doula U.K. and also work with The British Doula Association. I attending the local home birth support group, in order to support and encourage women and their partners who are choosing homebirths, from a Doula's perspective. Of course, my job is to remain neutral within my practice, and support the informed decisions of my clients, but as my passion is for homebirth, I like to be able to help inform and support those who choose this road.
I'm writing to you as I've just been on your website(again!)and it occurs to me that there's nothing on women's experiences of having a Doula at their homebirth..
I find myself a little frusrated by the lack of local knowledge as to what a Doula is,and although I'm quite aware of this not being exactly your field as such, what about a Doula who specialises in home/waterbirth?
Ours is not an affluent area,and although the services of an independent midwife vary greatly from that of a doula, many women simply cannot afford an IM, and find much support and extra 'backbone' from a pro-homebirth doula who can help them to keep the faith when up against the 'system'.
Kate Woods - www.consciousbirthing.co.uk
Ian C writes about the birth of Martha. His wife, Helen, is a doula and Hypnobirthing instructor and it is fascinating to read about this from the father's viewpoint.
Gina R had been working as a doula herself before she gave birth to her first baby at home. She had a long, tough first labour, but felt inspired by the women she'd worked with.
Julia N hired a doula in case her partner was unable to support her during labour. She found her doula very helpful when she went 10 days over her due date, and a great help in labour.
Sonia says her doula, Belinda, was worth her weight in gold.
Rosie Evans and her husband both write about how helpful they found the support of their doula during Rosie's home waterbirth after a prior caesarean.
Rachel White planned a homebirth after two caesareans. Her baby was occiput posterior and presenting brow-first, making labour tough and painful, and baby Jaya passed meconium before birth. Supported wonderfully by her doula, partner and NHS midwives, Rachel still managed to deliver her baby at home.
Amber's HypnoBirthing acted as a doula and helped to keep her focussed during her first baby's birth.
Hannah's home birth, by Maria
Stella's Homebirth, by Victoria Whitworth
Emmanuel's Breech Home Waterbirth, by Kathryn - Kathryn is a doula herself.
Oscar's birth story, by Brigett English
Shawn Walker is a doula who has advocated for clients several times when the local hospital said they had no midwives available.
Lyorel's birth, by Dunja Jane
Justine Caines's twin birth story
Valencia's birth story, by Farrah
A Twin Birth Story, by Sara Todd
I am no longer listing individual doulas on this page, because I would have to be forever updating it! However, please visit one of the doula networks below to find a doula in your area. The links below are for organisations, agencies and interesting articles.
Network of doulas, and helpful website with information about how doulas work, finding a doula, and training in the UK
Scottish doula network
"We are a network of doulas based throughout Scotland and Northern England who work independently but share a commitment to supporting women before, during, and after birth."
An organisation which trains birth and postnatal doulas all over the UK. The course is Doula UK recognised. They also help parents find trainee and experienced doulas (they do not charge a fee). 01892 532 830
Top Notch Doulas
- a doula agency and training organisation. Tel 020 7373 7434 (www.topnotchnannies.co.uk)
Putting Mothers and Children First, by Eliza O'Driscoll - article about private maternity care, independent midwives, doulas and postnatal paid help, from the Daily Telegraph, 17 August 2001
Have you seen the page about Independent Midwives in the UK?
Home Birth Reference Page