A doula may be described as a Labor Support Professional or Labor Companion, although at its Greek root, the term “doula” means:
a woman who serves.
This unique and ancient form of labor support to a mother and family also has scientifically proven immediate benefits – improving obstetric outcomes, the early mother-infant relationship, and breastfeeding – in addition to increasing self-esteem and positive memories of the birth for the entire family. I had to do a bit of research and writing on this topic for my DONA birth doula certification. Here’s an excerpt from that essay.
[And if you’re a doula seeking certification, please be kind and use this as a reference and not a copy-paste option for your own words.]
The benefits of labor support to mother and family
In today’s U.S. health care system, maternity health care providers are skilled at caring for the health and well-being of mother and baby with efficiency and sensitivity to potential birth complications. Unfortunately, there is not yet a consistent practice of incorporating the emotional and psychosocial well-being of the mother and family as a piece of high quality maternity care. The continuous presence of a doula, her hands-on support, and reassurance to the family offers a layer of individualized care that meets these important needs, so much so that the Cochrane Collaboration’s Pregnancy and Childbirth Group in Oxford, England recommends that “all labouring women receive support, not only from those close to them but also from specially trained caregivers.”
As described in the DONA International Position Paper, “The Birth Doula’s Contribution to Modern Maternity Care,” Drs. John Kennell and Marshall Klaus stumbled upon the benefits of labor support while investigating maternal-infant bonding in the 1970s. Their original studies, and numerous scientific trials since, reveal that the presence of a doula strengthens the bond between mother and baby and reduces the likelihood of obstetric complications. The impact was particularly strong among women who had no other companions and in institutions where intervention rates are usually high. Doulas have also been shown to reduce the length of labor, delay or eliminate women’s need for medical pain relief, reduce the likelihood of interventions and c-sections, and enhance a woman’s overall self-esteem and satisfaction with the birth experience.
Thanks to feminist advocacy during the 1960s, fathers and partners are now welcomed as birth companions for laboring women and their intimate knowledge of the mother and love for her and the child play an essential role in her birth. A doula enhances the birth team by offering support to both mother and her partner as needed. She guides the partner in comfort techniques for the mother, encourages clear communication with health care providers and decision-making throughout labor, and offers the partner temporary relief if needed during more difficult moments in the labor. The partner’s intimate understanding of the mother, combined with the doula’s intimate knowledge of labor and birth, provides a well-rounded birth support team for any mother.