Where does the word ‘Doula’ come from?
The word ‘doula’ means ‘handmaiden’ or ‘servant’ in Ancient Greek. The term was coined in the US by Dana Raphael, a medical anthropologist, in her book ‘The Tender Gift’, which promotes the benefits of women teaching other women about mothering.

Are Doulas of any practical benefit in the birthing room or do they just make the mother feel happier?
A doula is not normally medically qualified and is not a replacement for a midwife or any other medical staff. The doula is there to support the parents, specifically the mother. A recent report in the United States (Mothering the Mother by Kennel, Klaus and Kennel) set out that caesarean births could be cut by half; labour pain could be reduced by 25%, and the odds of a forceps deLivery reduced by 40% if more women had a doula with them before and during the birth.

What’s the difference between a doula and a maternity nurse?
Maternity nurses are baby-centred while doulas are mother-centred. A maternity nurse will give you 24-hour care for six days a week and will get up at night with the baby and set a routine for him or her. A doula will help the mother to do the mothering. She will give advice and help with the labour process, breastfeeding, provide emotional support and some post-birth doulas will even help with housework and cooking in order to free the mother to care for herself and the baby.

What is the difference between a doula and a midwife or a health visitor?
Doulas are not usually medical professionals (although some may have been nurses or midwives in the past). At the birth, the doula is not a replacement for a midwife or any other medical staff, she is instead there to support the mother; sometimes as her champion if she feels pressurised to do something she does not want to do. In contrast, a post natal doula will not offer medical diagnosis or treatment, but can be a source of reassurance when parents are worrying needlessly about blotchy skin or an occasional sneeze.

What hours does a doula work?
Some doulas are only available to attend the birth itself, while others will work full-time or part-time after the birth, depending on the mother’s needs. Some mothers find that they only need help for a couple of weeks, while others value their doula so highly they want her with them for months.