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What is a Doula?

The word “Doula” captures the essence of the tradition of women helping women especially during childbirth.  “Doula” is the feminine form of the ancient Greek word doulos (which meant “bondsman” or “slave” in antiquity); it is loosely translated as “female maidservant” and means “a woman who gives another woman help and assistance”.  It was used to refer to the most important female slave or servant in a prosperous ancient Greek household; she would have helped the lady of the house during and after childbirth.

Nowadays, a doula is known as a woman who is educated in childbirth issues and experienced in labor support.  A birth doula accompanies a new mother and her partner through birth and the early postpartum period and provides physical and emotional support, comfort techniques, assistance in gathering information, an objective viewpoint and advocacy.

Dr. John Kennell and Dr. Marshall Klaus first introduced the word doula to describe the role of a woman who provides continuous non-medical labor support.  They wanted a term that had no medical connotation that would embody the value of a comforting and attentive woman companion.  They borrowed the term from Dana Raphael who had adopted the Greek word to describe “one or more individuals, often female, who give psychological encouragement and physical assistance to the newly delivered mother”.  In her book “The Tender Gift”(1975), she describes a doula as a woman who supports the new mother physically and emotionally during the postpartum period, and encourages a successful breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby. Kennell and Klaus feel that every couple needs a doula – a person providing unobtrusive, compassionate and experienced support throughout labor – during the birth of their baby.

Over the centuries, the word doula has retained a negative connotation in Greece; it still means "slave" or "servant of God".  On many of the Greek islands, the doula is the lowest of servants - a lowly maid who does the dirty work.  Although birth doulas certainly do not consider themselves “slaves”, a servant’s heart is the most important thing they can bring to a birth.  It can be hard and messy work at times though.  A doula deals with long hours, low pay, fear, pain, blood, sweat, tears, amniotic fluid, vomit, poop, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and separation from her family.  But the doula believes in a mother’s ability to give birth and is called to work with birthing women.  A doula is there to “mother the mother”; to serve the laboring woman by meeting her needs and helping her birth experience be the best it can possibly be. 

Doulas truly embody the tradition of “women helping women”.


toLabor's Definition of a Doula

     The definition of a doula is commonly attributed to the Greek word that is defined as a slave or a servant. We prefer to use the Ethiopian definition of a dula which is a walking stick. We believe that the Ethiopian definition more correctly describes our perspective of the role of a doula. A doula is not there to manage or dictate what happens at the birth; doulas are there to walk along with their laboring client, to provide emotional, physical and educational support, to be much like a walking stick, a supportive tool to help one stay on the path.


What is a DOULA?

(from the DONA Website)

The word, "doula," comes from the Greek word for the most important female slave or servant in an ancient Greek household, the woman who probably helped the lady of the house through her childbearing. The word has come to refer to "a woman experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the mother before, during and just after childbirth." (Klaus, Kennell and Klaus, Mothering the Mother)

A doula...

The acceptance of doulas in maternity care is growing rapidly with the recognition of their important contribution to the improved physical outcomes and emotional well-being of mothers and infants.


What Does a Doula Do?

A Doula:

Postpartum Doulas

The word “doula” is derived from a Greek word which means “servant.” In modern usage the word has come to mean “one who serves the new mother.” A Postpartum Doula is a caring, skilled, knowledgeable individual who cares for moms and families after the birth of a baby.