The word ‘doula’ (pronounced ‘doo-la’) is a Greek word describing a woman experienced in her work, who helps/works for another woman. These days it is used in the context of birth and refers to someone who provides emotional, practical and informative support for women and families in the lead up to, during and immediately after childbirth.
In our society today the kind of support that would have traditionally been provided by the family is often lost and subsequently women and their partners can be left feeling alone and unsupported. A lot of pressure then falls on the mother, father or/and birth supporter to know about pregnancy, birth and the health care system. Additionally, the way that midwifery teams are organised often means that parents see many different midwives and don’t know which one will attend their birth. It is very difficult to obtain the continuity of care that promotes the trust needed for birthing and caring for a baby.
If a woman feels supported, calm and is allowed to birth in an undisturbed environment in the way that is best for her she will release hormones the birth hormones, the main ones being endorphins which are the bodies natural painkillers and oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone which stimulates the body to open and birth her baby. If she is fearful or interrupted adrenaline (or the fight or flight response) will be released, the blood is taken away from the uterus and into the limbs which can slow, stop or make labour more difficult to cope with.
A doula, as a woman experienced in the field of childbirth, can offer the chance to build up a trusting relationship over time. By knowing the woman she is supporting, a doula can act to protect the womans/couples wishes, keep interruptions to a minimum and promote confidence. They can help to hold a safe and private birthing environment, assist with decision making and any navigations of the medical system. Their presence can alleviate the pressure from the partner allowing him/her to give the loving support the birthing women and her baby needs. A doula takes on a role of empowering both the woman and her partner to fully participate in and to feel in control of their own birthing experience.