A doula is a woman who has had at least one baby herself, who supports other women during birth or in the weeks immediately after the birth. She can be any age and currently we have doulas in their early twenties up to those in their 60's and 70's. However, she must be physically fit, kind, caring, supportive and wise. Above all, she must be motherly.
The word 'doula' means 'handmaiden' or 'servant' in Ancient Greek. The term was coined in the US by Dana Raphael, a medical anthropologist, in her book 'The Tender Gift', which promotes the benefits of women teaching other women about mothering. A recent report in the United States (Mothering the Mother by Kennel, Klaus and Kennel) showed that caesarean births could be cut by half, labour could be reduced by 25 per cent, the odds of a forceps delivery reduced by 40 per cent if more women have the support of a doula during labour. It is likely that they could fill a gap in post-natal provision, a gap that has been highlighted by bodies such as the Royal College of Midwives and the National Childbirth Trust.
Doulas divide into birth doulas and post-birth doulas. Some doulas do both births and post-birth work and others only do one or the other. All doulas provided by British Doulas have taken the company's doula course and have been through our rigorous interview procedure, reference and police checks. Currently, in this country, apart from some volunteers in Holloway prison, all doulas work privately. This means that those who perhaps need the help more than others are generally not getting it. We see that doulas, particularly post-birth doulas, can more than pay for themselves long-term, as they can set a mother on her feet and show her how to do the best for her baby from the start. Recent studies have found that if a baby is properly cared for in the first three weeks of its life that will have a beneficial effect on him/her for the rest of his or her life, physically, emotionally and intellectually. This, we see, as the essential role a doula must play for the future health and well-being of our children.