What Does a Doula REALLY Do?

The role of a doula is becoming more and more valued by the wider community when it comes to birth.  Especially as the medical system stands today, the presence of an experienced, loving, knowledgable, confident other woman can make a tremendous difference in a mother and baby's birth experience.  Studies show that women with continuous labor support are more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births and are less likely to have Pitocin, pain medication, epidurals, negative associations surrounding their birth, the use of vacuum or forceps during birth, or a cesarean birth.  Their labors were also shorter and the newborns had higher Apgar scores upon birth with a noted decrease in newborns being admitted to the NICU.  

That's all kind of a big deal.

Still, there's question among many women about what a doula actually does.  We hear that she's a professional trained in childbirth who provides support for women before, during, and after birth.  She's hired by the family and works independent of the hospital or medical staff.  She is accountable solely to the family.  Great.  But what does that really mean, practically speaking?  

In my doula practice, as a bare bones answer I could say I provide a commitment-free interview, two prenatal meetings (sometimes more upon request or need), continuous support from active labor until an hour or two after birth, 24/7 email or phone availability, and one postpartum meeting.  But that doesn't nearly encompass the heart of what it is that I do.

So I thought I'd compile a list of just some of the things I've done as a doula:

talked through birth plans
squeezed hands
gave lower back counter pressure
caught vomit
spooned ice chips into mouths
prayed out loud
prayed silently
massaged backs and shoulders
grabbed the nurse/doctor/midwife
answered questions
changed chux pads
relayed messages
explained and demonstrated the birth process
put laundry in
compressed hips
taken labor photos
taken baby's first photos
demonstrated birthing positions
swabbed foreheads
walked and walked and walked
provided resources
calmed panic
read Scriptures
shown dad what to do
napped (while mom was ;)
held the space
timed contractions
held legs
packaged placentas
filled birth tubs
discussed options
driven newly born babes to the hospital
given recommendations for OBs, midwives, pediatricians, and chiropractors.
applied essential oils
gave statistics
helped onto the toilet
helped off the toilet
washed dishes
played music
filled (and refilled) the water glass
helped latch babies to breast
swatted flies
brushed hair
answered worried calls in the middle of the night
mopped floors
done the labor sway along with mom
gotten supplies
changed their clothes
changed diapers
reassured dads
poured water on backs
cleaned up poop
massaged feet
driven 95 m.p.h.
played music
comforted siblings
cooked food
vocalized with mom
offered my Mass
lit candles
sent birthday cards
helped process past birth experiences

All of that - the physical care, the emotional support and availability, the information supply, the spiritual strength, the investment of time and confidence - it all creates an atmosphere where a woman believes she has what it takes within in and around her to have a dignified and positive birth.  How many times I've heard from moms who believe that if only they had had a doula for a previous birth,  x, y, or z would not have occurred.  So often moms don't realize the support they need until they are in the thick of it or are not receiving it.  Doulas are helping to fix that and in turn are helping build a culture of birth that treats women and babies better, a culture that respects all the aspects of a woman's personhood as well as the collective wisdom and strength from which we can draw.
We are one part of slowly reclaiming the feminine genius of women when it comes to birth.

It makes sense then that a growing number of Christian and Catholic women are seeing this work as beautiful and are becoming doulas.  While I believe every woman can benefit from a doula, I think it is especially so when that doula shares the same (or at least similar) faith as the mother.  The work of pregnancy and the powerfully intense moments of birth are life changing.  They affect every part of us and sharing those beliefs with those supporting us and feeling free to draw upon that faith during those times is important for body and soul.  To help women find that like-minded support, Melody at Blossoming Joy offers a growing list of Catholic doulas that may be close to you.  Check it out if you are looking for a doula or if you are a Catholic doula and would like to place your profile on the list free of charge.

Have you used a doula or have questions?  Share in the comments!


  1. My aunt told me of the widowed lady of the parish who would come to the house when it was time. She helped the doctor and after spent days coming all day to take care of mom and baby, older siblings and dad. Back then - Brooklyn in the 1920s and '30s - that's just what was done.

    1. Yes! We've lost so much of that idea within our communities and I think we're hurting because of it.

  2. We're looking for a doula for our next birth in order to increase our VBAC chances. I'm glad someone is putting together a list of Catholic doulas - now I just wish there'd be one near us!

    1. How exciting! I hope you have a wonderful birth! You might want to see if you can connect with local natural birth/doula groups via Facebook in your area. You could ask there to see if they can recommend someone. Or maybe try contacting your local ICAN chapter to see if they can recommend someone

    2. I hope you have a found a doula.
      If you are in VA perhaps we can talk. I co-chair the local ICAN chapter, too.

  3. My doula brushed my hair while I was in labor with my first. It was so relaxing between contractions.

    1. That right there is proof of the need for feminine genius at birth. Because never in a million years would my husband see me in labor and think hey, you know what? I should brush her hair! But every woman knows it's the best!

  4. My first birth was in a birthing cottage on hospital grounds, I'd wanted a home birth, husband wasn't quite ready for that so a beautiful compromise. We researched and read so many books on home birth though that we were empowered.
    From all I hear and read though it does seem here in Australia many midwives and doctors are far more supportive of natural births and non-intervention than was you experience in the States.
    My next two births were homebirths, and I loved the intimacy and empowerment of that.
    the next 7 have been hospital births (I hemorrhaged terrifically after my 3rd birth, and could never put my husband through that again)
    however my experiences have been terrific, only had midwives, I hand them my birthing plan and they totally respect what I want. I think though it has helped that I'm definite is what I want and my husband is hugely supportive and vocal.

    1. Yes, we're slowly making changes but other countries are far ahead of us (and have better outcomes) when it comes to birth practices. I'm so glad you have had all good experiences!

  5. I will never give birth without a doula again. Skipped it the first go around and then came to our senses with the second. I had an extremely fast birth so she was only with us 45 minutes before Meredith came into the big world but she was amazing. She was calm and focused but accomplished so much. She talked me down in the peak moments, she got a cold wash cloth, got a birthing ball all set up, encouraged me, called the nurses, helped me breathe when I was supposed to not push,(yeah right) and post birth helped me set up a great nursing relationship, brought me an apple juice slushie, a warmed blanket and took pictures for us. All while letting me do my thing with my husband, never intrusive, only an extra bonus. I am so thankful to her. I can never thank her enough. Doulas rock. My husband didn't really get why we needed one in the first place but opted for the "whatever you say Dear" choice and even he is so glad we hired a doula.

    1. I love hearing these stories! I think word of mouth and sharing these stories is one of the best ways to understand this idea of the doula. I'm so glad you had a good one!

  6. We did not have a doula for the birth of our first child last year. We had found an awesome midwife practice (who encouraged doulas) and hospital that we liked and just felt like it wasn't necessary. We ended up with a very necessary c-section under general anesthesia and thank goodness our midwife basically stepped into the doula role. She held my hand while they put me under, got the baby skin to skin with my husband and took photos and video and was standing next to me in recovery with the camera so I could immediately see the baby. I will never forget the look of my husband as they ran me down the hall and he was left standing all alone outside the double doors. I think it is important to recognize the value of doula's at all births. I completely regret not having one and as we start thinking about another pregnancy and hopeful VBAC, it is on the top of my list!

    1. Oh, I'm so sorry your birth wasn't what you hoped for but so glad you had good support through it. Around here most OBs will not allow a doula in the room for a cesarean, only the partner. Which is really unfortunate.

    2. Due to the urgent nature of our situation I'm quite sure a doula would not have been allowed in either, I just got lucky that there were 2 OB's in there and my midwife (who was formerly a doula) wasn't needed to assist in the surgery as they usually do here.

  7. My first four were delivered naturally in a hospital by midwives who were so supportive and well-seasoned that I never considered a doula... I had my midwives! But when #5 came along and none of my midwives were practicing in our area anymore and the closest ones were still an hour away, I went with a regular OB but told my husband... I want a doula! He was all for it. We interviewed with a doula that my OB actually recommended as someone he had worked with before and were so impressed with her that we never interviewed anyone else. When toxemia hit 3 weeks before my due date and we were sent from the OB's office after a routine appointment directly to the hospital (do not pass go, do no collect $200) she showed up there and helped us through the agonizing decision to not induce, but head to the OR. Thankfully, because my OB knew her, she was allowed in the OR with us. She prayed for us before and took pictures throughout. When she saw the knot in the baby's cord and how it was wrapped around her neck, she told me in no uncertain terms that we had made the right decision. She wrote up the birth story and delivered her beautiful photos after we came home. Never was I so glad to have a doula for an emergency C-section! I can't even imagine how valuable they would be for a mom having a natural birth.

    1. I'm so glad you had that support! That must've been SUCH a hard decision and emotional time!

  8. Definitely the regular doctor seems too busy to really spend a lot of time getting to know the future mom at least in my case. I don't blame her since she must have had so many patients but having a best friend expert(doula) around would had made things better. I'm tempted to hire one next time. It's impressive tgat you are a doula on top of being a homeschooling mother! How many patients do you take on in a typical year?

    1. I *say* I take up to one a month but that all varies greatly with the nature of due dates and pregnancy! The most I've ever taken is three all due within 6 weeks. I'm on hold right now until Ben is older but have my first post-Ben birth lined up for December with a repeat client!

  9. Hi, I am always interested in meeting other doulas...just thought to tell you about our Catholic Doula Program at www.catholicdoula.com -- hope you will look us up. Thank you.


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