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Doulas? A Do-What?!

The thought of labor and birth can be scary.  Images of hospitals, pain, fear, and being alone fill the mind and create a great deal of anxiety for those who are new to birth or who previously have had a bad experience.

Enter the modern doula.

Today, doulas are becoming a more popular resource for birthing families.  But many still have not heard about their benefits and wonder,  “What is a doula?”.

For more information on what makes the best doula training, read what we found in our research.

As professional labor and/or emotional support, a doula can make a huge difference in your labor, birth, and postpartum experience.  Not only do they provide passion and energy to help, a trained doula adds the benefits of educated preparation, comfort skills, and the ability to collaborate with other members of the birth team.

A doula is a support person who provides non-medical, holistic care to the childbearing family.

So, what does a doula do?

A doula provides:


to help a family plan how they would like to be cared for during their birth.

Continuous Labor Support

to help the laboring family work smoothly through the process of labor and birth.

Non-Medical Support

that facilitates normal physiologic labor.

Emotional and Physical Stress Minimization

during and after necessary procedures.


facilitation between the laboring family and their care provider.

What is a doula

This definition of a doula is the foundation for the description of the Scope and Standards of New Beginnings.

For even more information watch our, “What is a doula” webinar.

Characteristics of a Good Doula

Now that we have answered the question, “what is a doula“, let’s dive into what makes a quality doula.

In an effort to understand the characteristics of a good doula, we’ve conducted informal research among doulas, nurses, and other professionals to put together a list of quality characteristics.  Our coursework is tailored so that our students receive training to help develop these characteristics.


Empathy is defined as “the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions” (Krznaric, 2012).  This is a particularly important quality because a doula needs to understand what a birthing family needs, in order to provide support.  Sometimes this can be difficult for those of us who come into this work with passionate ideals of what birth should or should not be.  At New Beginnings, we work on this through communication skills and mindfulness training. Both of these help the doula to look outside their own self and practice the skills needed to understand other’s point of views.


Birth can be unpredictable. Anyone helping with birth should have the skills necessary to accommodate the changing needs of a birthing family.  New Beginnings offers a course, also provided as part of certification, that helps to make an adaptable, client-centered plan.

Team Player: 

A doula should be able to communicate effectively with all members of the birth team, as well as coordinate care that involves everyone.  New Beginnings defines these goals to work towards as a birth team: 1) The birthing mother’s needs should be at the center of the care.  2) Respect the different values and culture of each member of the birthing team.  3) Communicate everyone’s roles, expectations and limitations.  4) Understand how everyone’s roles can compliment one another.  5) Express knowledge, concerns, and opinions with respect for one another’s role.  6) Practice effective communication strategies.


What constitutes professional behavior has been debated broadly. Therefore, New Beginnings put out a statement, after much research, which states five behaviors a professional doula should exhibit.  These include the promotion of the public good, being able to collaborate, having ethical standards, providing quality work, and gaining an education.


 A quality doula knows that they have their own biases and that they should work hard to keep those out of their birth work as much as possible.  This will allow them to provide their client with care that is centered around the client’s needs, not the doula’s.


From our vision statement: “Education, along with compassion, is the foundation for the New Beginnings program. Our doulas gain an education backed by knowledge, research, and experience in the field. We dedicate ourselves to providing a high quality education for our students, and also for women, doulas, and other birth workers.”

As I continue to work on this, I would love to know what your answer would be to “What is a doula?”.

Types of doulas

As trained doulas are becoming more popular, the profession is beginning to diversify into specialties.  Some of these include:

birth doula certification

postpartum doula

death doula

infertility doula

Many more than these are also showing up.  New Beginnings sees this as a great benefit for both doulas who are trying to hone in on areas they are interested, and for mothers who may desire a specialized kind of care.

For more Information on healthy pregnancy and labor support, Click for a Free 10 day access to our Childbirth Library. 


Krznaric, Roman. (2012). Six habits of highly empathic people. Retrieved online March 9, 2017.

Doula Training and Careers

Follow Rachel Leavitt:

Rachel has worked as a register nurse (BSN from University of Utah) since 2004 with a work history in Labor and Delivery, NICU and Postpartum Care. She is also the founder of New Beginnings Doula Training which she organized in 2011. When she's not busy being a mother and grandmother, she can be found reading research papers related to some aspect of childbirth.

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