Doulas have become increasingly popular over the past few years. Many families who come to me with their newborns have used the services of a doula and I have met several over the years. But I still wasn’t entirely sure of their exact role. So I invited the lovely Marcela from “Mamas Gives Light” to explain everything Doula!

What is a Doula?

When I tell people what I do for living, I get two types of reaction: A smile and an excited ‘oh that’s amazing!’, or a blank face followed by ‘so what exactly do you do?’. More often than not it is the blank face that I get, and it is for that reason that I am delighted to have been invited to write this post for Beautiful Bairns, to try and demystify what us doulas do.

I like to describe the role of doulas in a couple of words: We accompany. It’s as simple as that. A doula is by the mother’s side throughout birth, during labour and postnatally. But surely the woman’s partner can accompany her? Surely her mum can too? Surely her midwife or doctor can?

A doula differs from any other family member in the sense that she is a ‘neutral’ presence in the woman’s life, she usually doesn’t have any previous close personal relation to the woman. She is a presence that is well trained and qualified, and has knowledge of the pregnancy journey, the birth process and the postnatal period (sometimes being a mother herself). She is a companion that has no biased opinions and a companion that is there to support the mother’s choices. Most importantly, a doula differs from a midwife in the sense that she is not a medical professional and as such, our role is not to provide medical advice or perform any medical tasks. A doula’s role is not to antagonise the medical staff, not to antagonise the woman’s partner, but to work together with them to support the birthing mama, each with their own skills set and from their individual expertise.

Having a baby is not just about the birth.

It is a life changing experience for a woman (regardless of this being her first or her last baby). It is a process that starts from conception all the way up to the first months after birth. When the woman adapts to this new, totally unknown and sometimes quite scary territory of being a new mother. Besides the importance of the medical check-ups, a woman needs to feel emotionally and psychologically ready for childbirth and motherhood. This is where us doulas come in. The fundamental role of the doula and our one and only responsibility is to support the mother. We are of course there for her partner too, but our attention goes to the mama first of all.

Doulas are also sometimes called ‘Birth Keepers’. During pregnancy, we work with the mothers, discussing any concerns or fears regarding the birth, we provide them with evidence based information so that they can take the best decisions. During labour, we ensure that the mama feels first and foremost calm, relaxed and safe. These are the key elements for a mother and pretty much for any mammal to be able to birth. A labouring mother needs to feel warm, supported, not observed, undisturbed and uninterrupted. Postnatally, us doulas are there mostly to listen, to let the mama debrief her experience, her thoughts about the birth, to help her come full circle and support if there are any unresolved issues.

Even though a lot of doulas have quite a wide set of skills (yoga teaching, aromatherapy, homeopathy, reiki, hypnobirthing, acupressure and so on) that can, of course, come very handy if the mother requires these services, our services focus on continuously supporting  and encouraging the mother so that she can feel understood, strong, confident and empowered. The rest is extra but by no means less valuable.

It is important to clarify that a doula is not a ‘magic potion’ that you take for a perfect birth scenario. It is not a promise for the realisation of your ‘birth plan’ word by word. Even though it is scientifically proven that women who have the support of a doula are significantly less likely to request pain relief and need less medical intervention (Evidence Based Birth).

So why hire a Doula?

Because birth is unpredictable, because things may not go ‘according to plan’. And this is when the woman most desperately needs to feels supported, held, cared for, and proud of her birth experience. A doula provides the wisdom and close womanly connection that the mother needs as she goes through this crazy and incredible journey of growing, nurturing, birthing and mothering a whole new human being. I know mine did. My birth experience couldn’t have been more different to what I had envisaged, the infamous ‘birth plan’ went out of the window and I was faced with the reality of having a premature baby in neonatal care for 9 weeks. This is when I truly appreciated the support of my doula.

I personally and strongly believe that mothers should make informed decisions and that there is no right or wrong with regards to birth. One birth may be in water in a birth centre or quiet home birth, another one may be a planned or an emergency cesarean. Not one makes the other less special. In all of these circumstances, the role of the doula is to support and respect the mother’s decisions, to help her feel proud of the amazing process that she has been through.

So, what is a doula? A companion. A woman that will unconditionally support you, share her knowledge, love and skills with you, to help you have a positive birth experience and transition into motherhood, regardless of how it happens.


Marcela de León Pérez

Doula, Pregnancy & Postnatal Yoga

Edinburgh, UK

Web: mamagiveslight.com

Mobile: 07874 089 485

Email: marcela@mamagiveslight.com

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