The Benefits of a Birth Doula

Doula support can improve birth experience and outcomes
doula examining pregnant woman's belly
© Can Stock Photo / Kzenon

A doula, pronounced “doo-la”, is a person who functions as the birth partner/support person for a woman (and her partner) having a baby. They will often work with a family for several weeks before the birth, helping to educate new parents about childbirth and the postpartum adventure that awaits.

Doulas provide emotional and sometimes physical support, helping you get settled in the hospital or preparing your home for childbirth. It doesn’t end there; a doula will stay with you from the beginning of labour until the end, often arriving before a midwife or doctor and staying behind to help get the family settled. A birth doula is educated about the physiology of labour and birth and will strive to help the mother understand what is happening while advocating on behalf of the couple regarding birth plans and desires around the delivery.

According to a study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education, mothers who were assisted by doulas were four times less likely to have a baby with low birth weight, two times less likely to experience a birth complication, and significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding. The researchers hypothesize that the doula/mother relationship and the resulting communication increased the mother’s sense of confidence in her body’s ability to birth and impact her own pregnancy outcomes.

In 2012, an updated Cochrane review on the use of continuous support for labouring women was published. The review suggests that women who receive continuous support – much like what a doula would provide – benefit by experiencing a greater likelihood of vaginal births, and were less likely to have epidurals, interventions, pain, or negative feelings about the birth experience. 

I spoke to Kaya Edwards of Cowichan Doula in British Columbia about how she sees her role as doula and she had this to say: “As a birth doula I provide customized prenatal and breastfeeding education, partner preparation, birth planning, 24/7 phone and email support, and continuous labor and birth support. My mission as a doula is to support each woman in reaching their own personal goals and aspirations related to their pregnancy, labor/birth, and postpartum experience. As I do not have any childbirth experience of my own I truly feel that I am able to provide unbiased support without judgement to a wide variety of women and families.“

Perhaps one of the most valuable gifts a doula can give a labouring woman is the support and encouragement to make choices around her baby’s birth.

She went on to explain how her passion for supporting labouring women came about: ”My first experience with birth came in grade eleven when I was able to job-shadow a maternity nurse for several weeks. I fell in love with supporting mothers through their labours and births and was in awe of the awesome strength of these women. I was unable to provide any medical support during this time but was able to act in a doula-type role, supporting mothers emotionally, and continuously as they received incredible care from their medical team. I knew then, that wherever my life lead it would have something to do with this experience.”  

Perhaps one of the most valuable gifts a doula can give a labouring woman is the support and encouragement to make choices around her baby’s birth. In 2016/2017, c-sections rates in Canada were over 28%, almost 26% in the US, and may be much higher in some hospitals – that number is well above the 10-15% that the World Health Organization recommends. Experts have theorized that this is due in part to the over-medicalization of birth. While a doula will not interfere with or participate in medical care, research published in the American Journal of Managed Care indicates that the presence of a doula during childbirth may lead to an astonishing 60% reduction in a woman’s odds of having her baby via c-section.

The role of the doula during childbirth is a beneficial one: She stays by your side and provides confident and educated emotional support and encouragement, a vital thing to have when delivering a child. 

*Originally published December 4, 2015