What Does a Doula Do?

Doulas: Creating a Nurturing Birth Experience

Bringing a life into the world is a momentous occasion—one that’s laden with emotions, expectations, and complexities that can sometimes overshadow the joy of impending parenthood. Amid the whirlwind that is childbirth, doulas emerge as unsung heroes, dedicated to creating a nurturing, supported, and informed experience for expectant parents.

Despite the image of birth often portrayed in popular culture and media—a frantic dash to the hospital followed by a whirlwind in the delivery room—most birthing journeys are much more nuanced. A doula’s steady, experienced presence can be the calm within the storm, providing a range of support physically, emotionally, and informationally to ensure an expectant mother feels empowered and heard during this transition into parenthood.

What is the Doula Difference?

A doula, derived from the Greek term meaning “a woman who serves,” is a non-medical professional trained to assist women before, during, and after childbirth, offering continuous emotional and physical support in a variety of practical ways. Their focus is on the individual needs and desires of the birthing person, and they are well-versed in comfort techniques, breastfeeding support, and holistic postpartum assistance. Their role is to complement the medical care provided by doctors and nurses.

What are the Advantages of Doula Support?

The presence of a doula can yield numerous benefits, ranging from reduced stress and anxiety levels to decreased labor times and an increase in successful breastfeeding. The intricate tapestry of support they provide elevates the entire birth experience to a more meaningful and manageable level.

Emotional Continuity

The doula is the one constant presence throughout the birthing process, a consistent source of comfort, guidance, and empowerment. Their role is to be an advocate for the birthing person, ensuring their voice is heard and their choices are considered and respected. Often times, medical professionals rotate shifts and a doula is there throughout the labor and delivery. The doula’s unwavering presence offers reassurance and stability during the unpredictable stage of childbirth.

Informed Decision-Making

Many doulas have other certifications including postpartum doula, childbirth educator, breastfeeding counselor, lactation consultant and perinatal nutrition educator. With a wealth of knowledge on the birthing process and an understanding of medical terminology and protocols, a doula can help interpret and explain any procedures, options, or questions that may arise. This allows the birthing person to make informed decisions that align with their preferences and values. It is important to note that doulas want the best for their clients and will refer out for services when necessary.

Physical Support and Comfort

During labor, a doula can offer physical support through massage, positioning techniques, and other comfort measures. This can help manage pain and discomfort, as well as promote relaxation and progress in labor. A doula is also a master of physical comfort techniques. They know just where to apply counter-pressure during contractions, when to offer a massage, and how to create a soothing environment through the use of music, touch, and positioning.

Bridging Communications

Doulas act as liaisons between expectant parents and medical staff, ensuring that the birthing person's preferences are communicated effectively. This collaborative approach fosters a positive birthing environment and helps to form a birthing team that’s truly unified in the best interests of the newborn and the family.

What is the Doula's Role?

A doula’s support begins long before the first contractions, deeply involving themselves in expectant parents' birth preparation. Prenatal meetings serve as opportunities to formulate a birth plan aligned with the parents' values and preferences, with the doula offering insights and tailored suggestions for achieving the desired birth experience. Doulas have a wealth of resources and other perinatal professionals they can recommend as well.
Emotional support takes precedence throughout this journey, as the doula serves as a sounding board for fears, a cheerleader for the parenthood journey, and a source of reassurance and calm. They provide a safe space for voicing concerns, ensuring emotional preparedness for labor. Additionally, doulas educate parents about childbirth, pain management, and available choices, empowering them to navigate this unfamiliar terrain with confidence.
As labor approaches, the doula transitions into a crucial role in facilitating a positive birthing experience, acting as a guardian of the parents’ wishes and maintaining open communication between the medical team and parents. During active labor, the doula’s unwavering presence provides invaluable support, implementing comfort measures, sharing decision-making tools, and offering continuous emotional assistance.
Beyond childbirth, a doula's support extends into the postpartum period, guiding parents through the early days of parenthood. They offer emotional reintegration, providing an empathetic ear and resources for additional support if needed. Additionally, doulas offer practical care, assisting with breastfeeding techniques, postpartum care such as body recovery, and newborn care, easing the transition into this new phase of life and allowing parents valuable time for self-care.

What Does the Research Show?

A 2013 study on the impact of doulas on healthy birth outcomes underscores the significant impact of doula support on maternal and infant outcomes during childbirth. Doulas, by offering personalized assistance before, during, and after birth, empower women to achieve optimal outcomes.
Doulas not only affect the birth process and maternal experience but also contribute to lower rates of cesarean births, complications, and medical interventions. The study advocates for early inclusion of doulas in the prenatal period to maximize their influence on behavioral changes, potentially reducing adverse birth outcomes and benefiting medical practitioners, hospitals, and communities. Ultimately, offering doulas as part of prenatal care options empowers women to actively participate in preparing for birth, make informed health choices, and potentially reduce the societal and personal costs associated with adverse birth outcomes.

How Much Does a Doula Cost?

The cost of hiring a doula varies on experience, certifications and services. With so many expenses related to a new baby, it can be difficult to budget doula services as well. Some insurance companies will cover the cost of a doula or allow you to use FSA/HSA funds to cover the cost.

How do I Select the Right Doula?

When considering a doula, look for certifications, but also trust your instincts. A strong connection and feeling of ease in their presence goes a long way toward building a supportive relationship during a vulnerable time of your life.

Experience can provide a sense of security but be sure to weigh their past experiences against your specific needs and desires. Like any professional relationship, the compatibility between the doula and the expectant parents is crucial.  A mismatch in communication styles of personal preferences could to a less than optimal experience.

Will a Doula Support My Decision to Bank the Baby’s Cord Blood?

Many doulas support delayed cord clamping and have a misconception that you cannot delay and save the baby’s cord blood. However, if you choose to delay cord clamping and preserve the cord blood, it's entirely feasible by adhering to the recommendation of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for a 30-60 second delay. This duration ensures an adequate volume of cord blood is still available for cryopreservation storage.

Once you've made the decision to bank your baby's cord blood, your doula will incorporate it into your birth plan, communicate these wishes on the day of delivery, ensure the kit is readily available, and may offer assistance by contacting the bank after collection to arrange courier services.


Doulas embody the spirit of birth as a natural, attainable, and positive experience that is profoundly important for the well-being of the family. By choosing a doula, expectant parents invest in not just a service, but a philosophy—one that emphasizes the sacredness of birth and the power of informed, supportive care. Whether you're expecting your first child or preparing to welcome a new member into your family, the role of a doula in creating a nurturing birth experience is one to consider.

Last Updated on: 03/22/2024 by Diane Paradise