A doula provides support to expectant parents during pregnancy and childbirth.

Pregnancy and delivery are major events that can also be a source of stress for parents-to-be. They sometimes require making decisions about things the parents know little about, which can be overwhelming.

Having someone in the room whose only objective is to care for you and support you every step of the way can be invaluable. This is exactly what a doula is trained to do.

What is a doula?

Doulas can provide a variety of support services. They can support people who want to conceive, or assist those who have suffered a pregnancy loss or who are dealing with perinatal bereavement.

Doulas are well trained and experienced. They are passionate about perinatal care and the birth process. A doula’s primary role is to provide physical and emotional support to pregnant women before, during, and after delivery. A defining characteristic of doula support is that it is ongoing. From the first meeting right through delivery, a doula remains by their client’s side.

Doulas also provide information to help parents make informed decisions. They are well versed in the birthing process and have insight into common obstetrical practices in the community.

However, a doula is not a health care professional. They are not responsible for monitoring the pregnancy and cannot carry out technical procedures reserved for professionals, such as performing vaginal examinations or making diagnoses. This distinction keeps the doula on equal footing with their clients and makes it easier for them to help parents have the kind of birth experience they’re hoping for. A doula’s role is therefore complementary to the role of medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, and midwives.

The benefits of support

The presence of a doula has a positive influence on the course of childbirth. The medicalization of the birthing process has made hospitals intimidating to some. So much about childbirth is new and unknown to parents-to-be, which can make them feel vulnerable. The role of a doula is to support and guide them through this adventure.

By offering constant emotional support, a doula helps to reduce anxiety and fear in both partners. The mother-to-be gains self-confidence, which is good for the physiological process of birth and for ensuring that delivery goes smoothly.

Several studies have shown that using a doula may have the following benefits:

  • Greater likelihood of spontaneous vaginal delivery
  • Less likelihood of caesarean section
  • Shorter labour
  • Lower use of synthetic oxytocin
  • Lower use of epidurals
  • Lower use of forceps or vacuum extractor
  • Easier establishment of breastfeeding
  • Greater feelings of satisfaction regarding childbirth
  • Increased sense of control
  • Lower risk of depression

Generally speaking, doula services appear to reduce the need for medical interventions during birth. Most women would therefore benefit from having a doula.

The role of a doula

A doula’s role is multifaceted.

During pregnancy:

  • Answer the couple’s questions
  • Help the pregnant woman make informed decisions that align with her values
  • Help the couple create their birth plan
  • Fill in any blanks the parents may have about the birthing process
  • Encourage the participation of the birthing parent’s partner or support person in this new adventure

During childbirth:

  • Offer encouragement during difficult moments
  • Suggest positions to facilitate the labour
  • Suggest pain relief techniques and methods
  • Perform massage to relieve tension
  • Guide the birthing parent’s support person by suggesting ways that they can help
  • Help the couple make a decision when the medical team recommends an intervention by helping them assess the pros and cons or by suggesting alternatives
  • Back up the parents’ decisions with the medical team

Some doulas speak several languages and offer complementary services such as massage therapy, birth hypnosis, osteopathy, yoga, and counselling.

Finding a doula
Since doulas are not health care professionals, their services aren’t covered by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec

Some community organizations offer free doula services, but the number of available spaces may be limited. Many doulas also offer their services as a private practice. Private rates vary from one doula to another and depend on the services offered. Some provide naturotherapy or naturopathy receipts to partially or fully offset the cost of their services.

The Association québécoise des accompagnantes à la naissance (AQAN) recently changed its name to the Association québécoise des doulas (AQD). The organization’s title now emphasizes the term doula, which is already a recognized international term. Visit the AQD’s website to learn more or to find a doula.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Annick Bourbonnais, doula
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: August 2021





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