Doula? What is that?

If you ever wondered, what is this new thing called a doula? This is for you!

Put simply, a doula is "a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible." - DONA

Historically, women have been attended and supported by other women during labor. However, in hospitals worldwide, continuous support during labor has become the exception rather than the routine.

The word 'doula' actually comes from ancient Greek, meaning 'woman servant'.

Birth assistants have been noted in practically every culture and time in history. As far back as in the Bible in Exodus, midwives were written about for their going against the king's command and following God's instead. Showing great faith in their creator. It is often said that 'midwives' in Biblical times weren't the midwives we have come to know in our modern day, but that they were more so older and experienced family members and friends.

No matter which time in history, one thing is for certain, woman have been traditionally supported by other women during labor. Somewhere along the line, this time honored tradition has gone to the way side. It has left women without a steady, continuous support during labor and childbirth. Left soon-to-be mothers to navigate and deal with the unknown of labor on their own. The notion of doulas is not a new one. They have only left the scene of childbirth till recently. Continuous support during labor and childbirth is gaining popularity once again as women are taking back their power and advocacy in their births.

Research has shown that a continuous support during labor and childbirth has great benefits with no known harm. Cochrane published a study 'to assess the effects of continuous, one-to-one intrapartum support compared with usual care. And to determine whether the effects of continuous support are influenced by: (1) routine practices and policies; (2) the provider's relationship to the hospital and to the woman; and (3) timing of onset.' The author of the study concluded that, 'continuous support during labour has clinically meaningful benefits for women and infants and no known harm. All women should have support throughout labour and birth.'

I personally certified though Childbirth International. They define a doula as, 'someone you come to know well by the time of your birth, and who is there during your labor, by your side, focused solely on you and your partner. She can encourage you, remain objective, and help your partner feel more confident about how to support you. She can also assist you with practical knowledge on comfort measures for labor, such as massage and suggestions for positioning. A doula can provide information when you have questions, and can help you communicate most effectively with your medical caregivers.'


Below are a couple common questions you might be asking yourself:

Why should I hire a doula? Won’t my partner, my midwife, doctor, and the nurses help me with anything I need?

Doulas can help you in ways no one else can! Your partner may be a fantastic source of support, as the two of you share a special bond as you become parents together. But partners have their own journey to parenthood, and it can be a heavy load provide support during labor as well as manage their own inner questions and experience. Doulas can help by providing practical support for partners, to allow them a few minutes’ break every now and again to rest, eat, and regroup. Many partners also appreciate having an experienced supporter present who can reassure them about what is happening, and offer tips and demonstrations of comfort techniques. With a doula present, many partners actually feel more confident about their role at the birth and are able to be more active.

Your midwife or doctor will also play a key role in supporting you. Within the hospital, midwives and doctors are usually only able to check on you only from time to time throughout your labor as they are supporting other women, and cannot provide support in your home in the early stages. Doulas can!

Nurses are able to stay with you for longer periods, once you are in hospital, but with shift changes, paperwork, and many other women to care for at once, they can’t always give you undivided attention. Doulas can!

What all this means for you is that doulas are part of a whole team where each member has a special role to play in supporting you for your birth.

How can I pick the right doula for me? Where do I even start?

You might be nervous about interviewing doulas. Or unsure what steps to take first.

Start with identifying what you want from your doula. Reassurance? Physical support and comfort during labor? Specialized expertise in attending twin births or VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean)? Knowing what you want is the first step to making sure you get it! Likewise, a good doula finds out what you want and works toward that, instead of offering a “one size fits all” service.

Keep in mind that the doula who is right for you may not be the one who has attended the most births, but could be the one who can offer the support you need and with whom you and your partner “click” the best.

Consider the following when you’re speaking to a doula you’re thinking about hiring:

  • How much time does she spend doing the talking during your conversation?

  • How much time does she spend listening to you? A good doula listens a lot!

  • How much does she include your partner in her questions and discussions?

  • Do you feel able to speak your mind with her or are you worried about what she will think?

  • Do you feel this is someone you would enjoy getting to know and appreciate having present at your birth?

  • What kind of formal training or work experience has she had as a doula?

Some doulas have had basic training with a weekend workshop, while others have done months of extensive study, and some have been trained “on the job” with no formal schooling; is there a particular training background that is important to you? Check the website of your doula’s training organization to find out more about her formal qualifications. You can find out about Childbirth International training programs here.

If there is something specific you are looking for, or a particular concern you have, ask her how she has supported other parents in your situation. In the end, listen to your instincts!


I hope you enjoyed part one in the doula series on my blog. Next up will be 'Doulas. How Can They Help Me?' I'll be doing a quick overview of my tips and tricks and what is in my doula bag. I will for sure be writing up a post about fathers in the childbirth scene as well. So stay tuned!

Thinking of having me as your birth doula, but not sure yet? Let's meet! I offer one free consultation visit per family. It gives you, your family, and I the time to get to know each other and find out if we are a good fit. Let's meet over some coffee or tea.

Want to know more about me? I am a professional, certified birth doula for the Billings, MT area. I attend births within 65 miles of the Billings city line. Click the link below to browse my website.

Jessica Schanaman Doula Services

'Giving women and their families the resources, support and confidence to make evidence based decisions regarding their pregnancy and birth. To also encourage women to know and find their true strength during labor to make the experience theirs.

Giving birth back to the woman!'


Jessica Schanaman

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