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What is a doula anyway?

Although the word ‘doula’ dates back to Ancient Greece, it is relatively new to the English and Portuguese language, but what does it actually mean?

Below is a (not exhaustive) list of some of the aspects of the role of a doula in this day and age, which I recently wrote for the Uma Mãe Nasceu website…

Doula is a word of Greek origin meaning servant or handmaiden. It has become the term used for someone who takes care of a woman during labour and birth and in the early days and weeks with a new baby.

These days, when we live in less close-knit communities than in the past, women are often choosing to hire someone to fulfill the role of a birth companion that might once have been taken by a grandmother, aunt or other experienced woman in the community.


Reassuring presence
A doula is often, but not always, a woman. She will have a positive perspective on birth and mothering either through her own experiences or by attending other women. Her role is to provide emotional and practical support to a mother, her partner and family throughout pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period.

Holding a safe space
Ideally, a doula will have an understanding of birth physiology and will aim to create an environment that is conducive to a smooth labour and birth. She is there to help the new mother feel safe and to be her companion alongside or in place of her partner.

An advocate
A doula is not a medical professional and does not replace a midwife or doctor. Rather her position is to be an advocate for the birthing woman to help communicate her preferences and choices to the medical professionals.

A companion on the journey
Typically a doula will meet with the pregnant woman or couple a 2-3 times during pregnancy and may also have phone contact.
A doula may work with them throughout this period to confront difficulties that arise such as doubts of fears or to prepare on different levels for birth and parenthood.
By listening to their thoughts and feelings and sharing relevant information, she can assist expectant parents in navigating the different decisions they may need to make regarding maternity care.

Normally, a birth doula will be available ‘on-call’ 24 hours a day during the last few weeks of pregnancy so that she can be contacted when labour starts.

Post Natal Depression

Mothering the mother
Postnatally, a doula can provide emotional and practical support in the home as mum and dad adjust to life with a new baby. She may give support for breastfeeding, provide a listening ear as they process their experiences, or offer help around the house or with older children so that they can relax with their newborn.

Finding a doula
You may choose a trusted friend or family member as your birth companion or another experienced member of your community. If you don’t personally know anyone suitable, you may want to ask a friend for a recommendation or search for someone through one of the online platforms, which you can find on the Uma Mãe Nasceu useful links page.

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