A birth doula is a professionally trained labor companion who nurtures, serves and guides pregnant women and families through their birthing experience. A doula provides emotional, physical, informational and self-advocacy support. She provides emotional support with words of affirmation, verbal guidance during difficult parts of labor, releasing of fears and continuous one-on-one support. Physical support is provided with counter pressure, massage, the use of a rebozo, hot or cold therapy and position changes. Informational support is given by providing unbiased evidence-based information, education on medical procedures and the birth process and suggesting various tools in labor (position changes, breathing and relaxation techniques). The doula helps the mother become informed about various options, but it is not her role to discourage her from her choices. Lastly, the doula supports the mother in self-advocacy by encouraging her to voice her desires and facilitating communication with medical staff. The doula never speaks on behalf of the mother.
A doula is not a medical professional and cannot perform any medical tasks such as fetal heart checks, cervical exams or administering medications. This is outside of her scope of practice. It is important that the mother ask her care provider for approval before using any suggestions her doula might offer. The doula provides continuous one-on-one support to her client, unlike a medical provider.
The doula’s role is different from that of a spouse or loved one who has greater emotional ties to the mother. It is often difficult for this person to see the bigger picture of labor and he or she could become wrapped up in their feelings towards the mother and the birthing process. A doula generally has greater experience and education with the birth process and options women have. However, a spouse or loved one knows the mother intimately and the doula cannot take his or her place. The doula should ideally compliment this person’s role, take pressure off and make suggestions as to how he or she can best support the woman at the level they desire.