Doula (δούλη), an Ancient Greek word, meaning female slave
The term was probably first used in the modern age in Tender Gift: Breastfeeding (published in 1976) by Dana Raphael, an anthropologist who described experienced mothers supporting new mothers in breastfeeding and newborn care. Marshall Klaus and John Kennell conducted clinical trials on the medical outcomes of doula-attended births and adopted the term to include labour support. More can be read in their 1977 book Impact of Early Separation or Loss on Family Development: Maternal-infant Bonding . You can also read more from Childbirth Connection.
A doula provides physical and emotional support to a woman leading up to and during her labour and birth, and in the immediate time afterwards. A doula is not a medic or midwife, she is there as support and advocate for the woman herself. Doulas are experienced in birth, usually they are trained, sometimes they are midwives too.
A doula is there to support you in your birth choices. She may also help by being your advocate when you are deep in labour and beyond conversation, she may be the protector of your birth space, keeping peace, low light and calm around you, she may be the rock providing you and your partner with support during a highly medicalised birth or caesarean. Doulas are there for your birth, and whilst most passionately believe that physiological birth is safest for most mothers and babies, they are not there only for the ‘natural birth’ and they are not there to press for ‘normal’ birth at all costs.
Doulas don’t give medical care, heart rate checks or vaginal examinations and they don’t give medical advice. Doulas can help you interpret medical information and support you to make the decisions that are right for you, and then help you to make those choices a reality. Doulas can also offer information on ways to cope with labour and to make your birth as pain free and relaxed as possible.