A doula, pronounced like Paula Abdul-a, is an experienced labor companion that offers emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual support to a laboring mother. Studies confirm that a doula’s presence decreases labor pain, labor length and generally results in a happier healthier baby and mother.

A doula offers emotional support by using the prenatal visits to help work through any fears or past trauma the mother may be anxious about and through her words of encouragement throughout the laboring process.

She provides physical comfort through massage, rebozo techniques, heat/cold compresses and hydrotherapy.

She provides psychological support by creating an environment that is judgmental and stress free.  The doula advocates on the mother’s behalf and ensures her birth experience is as close to her birth plan as possible.

The philosophy of New York Doula is that the doula also provides spiritual support in reframing the birthing process as one that is life affirming, life enhancing and strongly connects her to centuries of women who have each single-handedly contributed to the next generation.

We believe that birth is not about doctors, or sonograms, or even child birth educators. It is first and foremost about families and the spiritual journey the family embarks on with each new addition.

Brief History Of Doulas

In Ancient Greece, a doula was a woman in the highest level of servitude to women in the home. Doulas were an integral part of the Greek home assisting in childbirth, breastfeeding and child rearing.

Historically, it seems, women have always been the one’s assisting other women giving birth. Ancient birthing art, for instance, features other women, often family members, surrounding the birthing mother and offering her comfort.

The biblical story of Bereishis (Genesis) even features two doulas, Yocheved and Miriam, who assist the Hebrew women in labor.

The key role other women have played in birth support makes sense when you understand that the data that proves that the presence of a doula decreases labor pain and increases maternal health is not gender neutral. It is posited that the health benefits of a doula or labor support is only statistically significant when that support is a woman.

Sorry guys, but birthing is indeed a woman dominated sport.


Doula helps mother in the assisted squat position

While labor support is not new, the modern doula movement is relatively new.

Whereas centuries ago doulas were really just mothers or other caregivers, today’s doulas are professionals usually not related to the birthing mother. The shift is probably due equally to the breakdown of the family as it is due to the reality that for the last few decades women in the US have for the most part not been experiencing natural birth.

Beginning in the 70s, women once again craved a gentler, more private and as a result,  more natural birth.

After years of turning away from the midwifery model of care in the US, women felt disempowered and downright frightened by birth. Since the obstetric field in the US had been dominated mostly by male MDs, the doula movement came to supplement the woman’s voice back into birthing.

The doula’s role evolved from providing comfort to the birthing mother to also advocating for her needs. By doing both of these things, a doula helps create an ambiance free of fear. A birth free of fear is often a faster, healthier birth with less interventions.

This quote from “The Farmer and the Obstetrician” by Michel Odent expresses physiologically why a doula’s presence would benefit birth outcomes:

“The reason for doulas – and for authentic midwives in general – can be interpreted from the perspective of physiologists.

In the language of these scientists who study the body functions it is easy to explain how certain situations can inhibit the birth process. This is the case when a labouring woman feels observed, a situation which tends to activate the part of her brain (the “neocortex”) that should be at rest during labour.

In other words, privacy appears as a basic need.

This is also the case in any situation associated with a release of hormones of the adrenaline family. This means that feeling secure is another basic need of pregnant women.

The physiological perspective helps understanding why all over the world and through the ages women always had a tendency to give birth close to their mother or close to an experienced mother or grand-mother.”

In short, women’s importance as labor support during the birthing process is evidence based and has been practiced since the beginning of time.

Benefits Of Having A Doula/Labor Support

Having a doula is the only birth intervention with absolutely no negative side effects. Having a doula-assisted birth has been proven statistically to:

  • Reduce cesarean rates by 50%
  • Reduce the length of labor by 25%
  • Reduce the use of Pitocin by 40%
  • Reduce the need for pain medication by 30%
  • Reduce the requests for epidural pain management by 60 %
  • Increase mom’s self image
  • Increase satisfaction in the overall birth experience
  • Improve the relationship between mom and partner.

(Information provided by Mothering the Mother, Klaus, Klaus, and Kennel)

If you are looking for a doula, there are many options available. There are doulas with specialities in home birth, hospital birth, birthing center birth, twin birth, vbac, c-section and much more. You should interview several doulas and ask what their philosophy on birth is.

If finances are an issue, there are many low-cost doula options. Do not disregard a friend or family member as a possible alternative. Any support person is going to achieve more of the positive birth results listed above than no support person.

Happy Birthing!