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:
- What training or experience they have had?
- What services do they provide?
- What are their fees and charges? Doulas are not covered by Medicare or private health insurance.
- If they have a Working with Children Check and Police Check.
- Are they are up to date with their vaccinations, particularly whooping cough and influenza?
- Can they provide any testimonials from previous clients?
- Any other questions about what’s important for you.
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.
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
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Last reviewed: March 2021