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What does a birth doula do?

5-minute read

What is a doula?

A doula is a trained, non-medical companion who assists a woman before, during and after childbirth. A doula provides support and advocacy, mediating between the woman and her maternity-care providers. They also serve as advocates and a 'voice' for the mother if she feels she needs it.

Doulas don’t replace a woman’s partner, if she has one, during labour and birth. They work with a woman’s partner to help her have the best birth experience she can.

A doula is often a person who’s had children of their own, or has a background in healthcare. They are typically good listeners and are respectful, knowing where the boundaries lie between their skills and what is being provided by the maternity-care providers.

How do doulas become qualified?

Doula training is available through various colleges and each country has its own guidelines for becoming a registered doula. Doulas don’t need any essential qualifications, though most have undergone some training in birth support.

What's the difference between a doula and a midwife?

Midwives are health professionals who are either qualified nurses and have undertaken extra study to become a registered midwife, or completed a midwifery degree at university. Practising midwives must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. Private midwives must also register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Birth doulas do not have medical training and it's not part of their role to provide medical or health care advice. If you are having a home birth, you should have a trained midwife with you.

How to find a doula

There are a number of doula training organisations in Australia, such as the Australian Doula College and Doula Network Australia. You can also ask your doctor or midwife if they have any recommendations.

What questions should I ask my doula?

It’s important to meet with the doula during your pregnancy to build a healthy, trusting relationship. Like all relationships, there is no guarantee of a good ‘fit’ with the first doula you meet.

Make a list of questions based on what’s important for you, such as:

Where do doulas work?

Most doulas work from their home and travel to the or where each woman has to have her baby. They may also attend home births, depending on their own practice philosophy. Most doulas work from their home and travel to the hospital, birth centre or home where the woman has chosen to have her baby.

Your doula's role during your pregnancy

Your doula may help you prepare for labour and birth, by offering you information and guidance. They may share their previous experiences of supporting women and what was helpful. They may also advise you on how to prepare your home and family for a new baby – including the emotional adjustment involved in having a baby.

Introducing your doula and birth care provider

Speak with your maternity care provider about your plans to include a doula in your care. If it’s possible, ask your doula to come to a few with you so they can meet each other.

Speak with your maternity-care provider about your plan to add a doula to your birth ‘team’. If possible, ask your doula to come to a few antenatal appointments so they can meet each other.

Your relationships with your doula and your maternity-care provider will be different. You will gain different benefits from having both involved in your care. Ideally, your doula and maternity-care provider will complement each other’s skills and expertise.

Your doula's role during your labour and birth

Ideally, you’ll have many conversations with your doula during your pregnancy. This will help you form a clear idea of the type of support you’d like during your labour and birth, and how you hope to give birth.

Some of the things to discuss with your doula might include:

  • the position you’d like to be in when your baby is born - if all goes to plan
  • how to move around in labour
  • if your doula’s likely to anticipate your needs, perhaps before you’re even aware of them yourself
  • how, if and when you would prefer any pain relief
  • if you’d like massage, support with visualisation, breathing prompts or other calming strategies
  • other practical ways your doula can help you, such as applying heat packs or assisting you in and out of the shower or bath
  • other ways your doula might help you focus on your body and your baby
  • strategies for reassuring and motivating you and boosting your self-confidence
  • how they will keep you informed about how your labour is progressing
  • if, during childbirth, they’ll remind you of what you discussed during your pregnancy and what is important to you
  • how your doula will support your partner

Your doula’s role after your baby is born

Your doula may help you get to know your baby. Along with your midwife and child health nurse, your doula may help you learn how to feed your baby, settle them and generally care for them.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


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Need more information?

About doulas | Raising Children Network

Doulas support women with information and practical and emotional care during pregnancy and birth. Doulas work in homebirth and hospital settings.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Choosing a birth support partner

A birth support partner can offer many benefits to you and your baby. Learn here how to choose a partner who’ll support you before, during and after the birth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Health professionals involved in your pregnancy

Information on the health professionals involved in your pregnancy, such as midwives, doctors and obstetricians.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy care & birth: private hospitals | Raising Children Network

Private hospitals offer comfortable, caring birth environments. Private obstetricians look after pregnancy care for women having a private hospital births.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Being a birth support partner

Learn more about supporting a woman in birth and labour, whether you are her partner, relative or a friend.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

What is freebirth?

Freebirth is when a woman chooses to birth her baby without medical or midwifery assistance, but this greater independence comes with some risks.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Labour and birth: support people | Raising Children Network

Support people encourage you during labour and birth. The right support can help labour progress. Check with birth settings on rules about support people.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Antenatal classes

Antenatal classes help you and your partner prepare for the birth of your baby and for caring for your newborn.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Making a birth plan

A birth plan is a written list of what you would like to happen when you are in labour and give birth.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

VBAC: vaginal birth after caesarean | Raising Children Network

For many women, vaginal birth after caesarean – VBAC – is a safe and positive way to have a baby. Our guide explains VBAC’s possible benefits and risks.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.