What is a doula and how can they help me?

A doula is a birth companion who has had training in assisting women when they are pregnant, birthing and after they’ve had their baby.  A doula is also an advocate for the birthing mother and her partner and acts as a mediator or ‘go-between’ the expectant parents and their maternity care providers.

Doulas are generally women who’ve had children themselves and want to offer support to other women.  They are often passionate about what they do.

What is the training to become a doula?

Most countries have their own training programs to become a trained and registered doula.  In Australia there are a few training facilities which provide education on what’s involved in becoming a doula.

Doulas are not midwives or registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), the regulatory agency which manages the registration and renewal process on behalf of health practitioner boards.

How would I find a doula?

Speak with your maternity care provider to see if they have any contacts. Otherwise you can do your own research, starting with a directory of doulas in Australia. There are a number of doula training organisations in Australia, such as the Australian Doula College and Doula Network Australia.  

What’s important to know about doulas?

Doulas are generally quite clear about what they can and can’t do. This is important in order to keep the  boundaries clear between their role and what is best managed by maternity care providers.

What’s as important as the doula herself,  is the relationship between the expectant parents and their doula. This needs to be built on trust and confidence and cannot be rushed.  Ideally, the expectant mother and her partner meet with their doula early in pregnancy and build a connection. 

According to The World Health Organisation (WHO) a review of the research into the benefits of labour companionship, found that a sense of trust and companionship are important characteristics.

What to consider when choosing a doula

As well as the following, you will have your own ideas.

  1. It’s important you have someone who shares the same or similar values as you and your partner do.
  2. Cost – there is no one standard rate which doulas charge and their fees are not rebatable through Medicare or private health insurers. As a general guide, most doulas charge between $800-$2000.   
  3. Choosing one who can work with you, your partner and your maternity care provider. Your birthing ‘team’ need to collaborate with each other to support you in the best way possible during labour and birth.
  4. Who you feel comfortable with.

Introducing your partner, maternity care provider and doula

Initial introductions will be best done during your pregnancy. This will give everyone the opportunity to talk about your labour and birthing goals and how they may support you. 

It’s important that your doula doesn’t take on the role of a healthcare professional, but rather, considers themselves as part of your birthing team.

How can my doula support me during my pregnancy?

One of the ways a doula could support you is to help you prepare for your labour and birth.  The specifics of their support will then depend on what you want.

Generally, doulas offer pregnancy support with:

  1. Company in attending antenatal appointments.
  2. Asking questions on the parents’ behalf, especially if they feel uncomfortable speaking for themselves.
  3. Offering information about pregnancy, labour and birth.
  4. Talking about adjusting to parenting.
  5. Being a ‘second pair of ears’ for information and guidance given by maternity care providers.

How can my doula support me when I’m in labour and birthing my baby?

During your pregnancy, you’ll have lots of opportunity to talk about the different ways your doula can support you.  It’s important to have a clear plan as you approach your baby’s due date. Though bear in mind, it’s important to be flexible and allow for the unexpected.

Labour and birth do not come with any guarantees.   Although most women plan for a natural vaginal birth with minimal or no intervention, sometimes this is unavoidable.

10 ways your doula could offer you birth support:

  1. Help you decide what position you’d like to be in when you’re in labour and birthing.
  2. Help you make a decision about the type/s of pain relief you’d prefer.
  3. Breathing options and visualisation techniques.
  4. Support your communication with your maternity care providers.
  5. Assist your partner in supporting you.
  6. Offer massage and calming options.
  7. Offer practical options of support like showering or labouring in a bath. Check first to see what is available where you plan to give birth.
  8. How you’d like them to use other pain relief strategies like moving around in labour, acupressure, heat packs, positioning of pillows and focusing techniques.
  9. Offer to be an advocate if you cannot speak for yourself.
  10. Offer you motivation and reassurance.

How can my doula support me after I’ve had my baby?

Some doulas offer support through pregnancy and birth and then stop their engagement. Others extend their support until a few weeks after the baby is born. But most doulas will:

  1. Help the new mother to offer skin to skin contact with the baby.
  2. Support with offering the baby their first breastfeed.
  3. Help the new mother to be comfortable, have a shower or wash and change into fresh clothing.
  4. Provide an opportunity to have a debrief on labour and birth. Sometimes women don’t have the birthing experience they would have preferred and it’s important to reflect and discuss this with someone who was there.

About the Author:

Written for Nourish Baby by Jane Barry. Jane has qualifications in general, paediatric, immunisation, midwifery and child health nursing. She holds a Bachelor Degree in Applied Science (Nursing) and has almost 35 years specialist experience in child health nursing. She is a member of a number of professionally affiliated organisations including AHPRA, The Australasian Medical Writer’s Association and Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses.


About Nourish Baby | Online Antenatal Classes & Parenting Courses – nourishbaby.com.au

Doula - Better Health Channel

What does a birth doula do? | Pregnancy Birth and Baby (pregnancybirthbaby.org.au)

What is a doula and do you need one? | CHOICE

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