A Doula is a person who assists women before, during and after labour by providing emotional and physical support and information to both the labouring mother and her family.
The word doula stems from the ancient Greek word for “someone who serves”. The service a Doula provides includes emotional support such as encouragement, providing recommendations and assisting in decision-making. Physical support may include massage, nutritional guidance and postural recommendations.
A Doula is not a Midwife nor do they share responsibilities. A Midwife is a licensed medical practitioner with the role of ensuring the safe delivery of a healthy baby with minimal risks to the labouring mother. Doulas do not prescribe medical advice nor do they deliver babies. Also unlike a Midwife, Doula care is not covered under social healthcare in Canada. Should the parents-to-be wish for a Doula, they can hire one, which is a positive step in helping to minimize the likelihood of Caesarean section: Doulas reduce the chance of Caesarean section by 50 percent (see A Love Letter To My Doula).
Fortunately Midwives and Doulas commonly provide service alongside each other during delivery, which may be in the hospital, a birthing centre, or at home. Your Midwife might even be able to recommend a Doula should you want one, or you can explore online practitioner directories for a Doula in your area.
In Canada and the United States, Doulas are not governed by any professional practitioner body. Numerous organizations provide certifications for Doulas, but none of these certifications is necessary for someone to serve as a Doula. There are many training programs that vary greatly in length: from 16 to 27 hours for entry-level training to 270 hours, which is the length of Pacific Rim College’s on-site Holistic Doula Certificate program.
Many moms who have birthed with the assistance of a Doula testify that they would never go into labour again without the trusty help of a Doula.