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Supporting Women Giving Birth

Continuous support from a doula during labor provides physical and emotional benefits for mothers and health bonuses for their babies.
With less medical interventions, fewer complication and shorter hospital stays, there may be financial savings as well.
- Harvard Health Letter

Doula supporting a woman in labor

A doula is a woman who helps another woman giving birth. The word 'doula' is Greek, meaning 'woman caregiver'.

Worldwide there is an increasing trend to go back to the ways of the past where women supported women giving birth.

As a result of international studies, which confirm the benefits of a doula-assisted birth, many pregnant women and hospitals are welcoming the services of trained doulas.

A doula is specifically trained to support a woman giving birth. She stays with the woman throughout the labor, assessing and responding to her needs.

She makes use of touch, listening and sensitive caring. She comforts, praises and encourages and reassures the mother, supporting her emotionally.

A doula recognizes that giving birth is a key life experience, a 'defining moment' that the mother will remember all her life. One of her goals is to protect the mother's memory of her birth experience.

She provides emotional support, physical comfort measures to help reduce any pain and an objective viewpoint, helping the woman to make good decisions. She encourages her to stay with her birth plan.

Knowledge of the birth process helps a doula to prepare her client in all situations, from preparing a birth plan to supporting her through possible changes to the plan that may be required.

Doulas do not perform any medical procedures and are therefore able to dedicate their attention exclusively to the woman's emotional well-being, leaving any medical tasks to others. This constant support reduces the woman's stress levels and facilitates a shortened labor period and a smoother birth.

The Benefits of a Doula while Giving Birth

An international study by Klaus et al, involving over 1 500 women giving birth, found that mothers who received doula support had shorter labors and a greatly reduced perception of pain.

Below are some of the other benefits that this study revealed:

  • 25% shorter labors
  • 50% reduction in caesarean births
  • 30% reduction in the mother's need for medication
  • 60% reduction in epidural requests
  • 40% reduction in forceps delivery
  • increased support by the partner

If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical NOT to use it! - Dr. John H. Kennell, M.D. Professor of Pediatrics and childbirth researcher
In a 'review of studies [which] included 16 trials, from 11 countries, involving over 13,000 women in a wide range of settings and circumstances. Women who received continuous labour support were more likely to give birth 'spontaneously', i.e. give birth with neither caesarean nor vacuum nor forceps.

In addition, women were less likely to use pain medications, were more likely to be satisfied, and had slightly shorter labours.

In general, labour support appeared to be more effective when it was provided by women who were not part of the hospital staff. It also appeared to be more effective when commenced early in labour."

The authors of this review concluded that,

"All women should have support throughout labour and birth."

Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2007, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub2.

The Benefits to the Mother and Baby after Birth

The worldwide study also showed that after the birth, the benefits of having a doula resulted in:
    mother and baby bonding
  • better attachment and bonding between the mother and baby
  • reduced need for medical intervention
  • longer duration of breastfeeding resulting in better health for baby and financial saving
  • reduced incidence of post partum depression
  • improved mother and baby well-being
  • positive feelings about labor and birth

Happy birth experiences make happier mothers!

Happy mothers have happy babies!

Doulas and Dads

Pregnancy and giving birth is as new for the first-time dad as it is for the woman in labor.

The doula's knowledge and experience of birth enables her to be able to support the partner as well and also to help the couple to communicate with their care providers. The unobtrusive presence of a doula means that there is sensitive support for the partner too.

He can take a break if necessary or participate at his own comfort level, knowing that his partner is not alone. A doula does NOT replace the dad!

Quotes about Dads and Doulas

"I've run a number of marathons. I've done a lot of hiking with a heavy backpack, and I've worked for forty hours straight on-call; but going through labour with my wife was more strenuous and exhausting than any of these experiences.

We could never have done it without the doula. She was crucial for us."

"Asking your husband to be your sole guide through labour is like asking him to lead the way on a climb of Mt. Everest.

He may be smart and trustworthy, you may love him, but in the Himalayas, you'd both be better off with a Sherpa!"

She offers him:

  • support so that he also has a good experience
  • information about birthing process
  • reassurance regarding his role
  • privacy for the couple and a secure birthing environment
Expectant couple

More About Doulas

Hire a Doula in Hermanus

For more detailed info about doula support for women giving birth, download this research article (pdf): social Support by Doulas During Labour - Meyer BA, Arnold JA, Pascali-Bonaro D, Hospital Physician 2001 Sep;37(9):57-65

Choosing a Doula - questions to ask at a doula interview

DONA International -

Women Offering Mothers Birth Support (South Africa)

WOMBS is the only accredited doula association body of trained doulas in South Africa.

WOMBS doulas have completed and passed the Johnson & Johnson Birth Companion program.

WOMBS believes that parents should be empowered to make informed decisions about labour, birth and postnatal care for their families and have access to health care systems which support their choices.

WOMBS works towards these objectives with their Scope of Practice and Code of Conduct.

For a list of qualified WOMBS doulas, visit the WOMBS website -


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