What Is a Doula?

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The thought of labor and birth can be scary for many women.  Images of hospitals, fear, being alone, and pain can 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 women.  But many still have not heard about their benefits and wonder: “What is a doula?”  As labor support, a doula can make a huge difference in your labor, birth, and postpartum experience.  They bring a passion for helping a new mother, and a trained doula adds the benefits of educated preparation, skills, and the ability to collaborate with other members of the mother’s birth team.  Our free course offers a more extensive introduction into what a doula is and how they can help.

A doula is:

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

What does a doula do?

What Does a Doula Do?

A doula provides:

  • information to help a family plan how they would like to be cared for during their birth.
  • continuous labor support and helps 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.
  • communication facilitation between the laboring family and her care provider.

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

A Quality Doula

In an effort to understand what a quality doula really means, we did conducted an informal research among doulas, nurses, and other women to come up with a list of quality doula characteristics.  Our coursework is tailored to make sure that our students receive training to help them develop these characteristics.

Empathy:  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 be able to understand what a birthing woman needs in order to provide her with support.  It is also something that is difficult to do for those of us who come into this work with such a passion and an idea of what birth should or should not be.  We work on this in New Beginnings through communication skills and mindfulness training, both of which help the doula to look outside herself and practice the skills needed to understand other’s point of views.

Flexible: Birth can be unpredictable and anyone helping women in birth should be able to have the skills necessary to accommodate the changing needs of a birthing mother.  New Beginnings offers a course that is also provided as a part of certification that helps to make a client centered plan that can also be flexible.

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.

Professional:  What constitutes professional behavior for a doula has been debated, but New Beginnings put out a statement, after much research, that 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.

Non-judgmental:  A quality doula knows that she has her own biases and that she should work hard to keep those out of her birth work as much as possible.  This will allow her to provide her client with care that is more centered around the client’s needs, not the doula’s.

Educated: 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 for women, doulas, and other birth workers.”


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


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