A Doula Explains What Doulas Do (And Don't)

First, let’s define “doula”:

If you ask Merriam Webster Dictionary, a doula is “a person trained to provide advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth.”   

The Greek definition of “doula” simply translates to “woman’s servant.”  

My own definition (as a doula myself): 

Doulas are individuals trained to provide steady, calming support to the birthing family through touch, word, and information. A doula is a part of your birthing support team, aiding in both emotional and physical needs. But, this can extend to your birthing partner, as well!

Here’s what doulas do:

Doulas perform various functions throughout your transition from pregnancy to motherhood. They provide support in three main ways:

  1. Physical Support: No doubt, giving birth is hard work. A doula provides physical support during labor through massage, counter pressure, hot/cold therapy, and position suggestions.  A doula’s “bag of tricks” is only limited by the extent of the imagination.
  2. Emotional Support:  Giving birth is also an extremely emotional experience. One that you’ll reflect on the rest of your life. A doula uses their intuition and calming presence to help the birthing person and her partner handle the stressful and unpredictable moments of labor. I often compare doulas to flight attendants. When unexpected turbulence hits, it’s the doula’s job to keep their composure and provide calm assistance.
  3. Informational Support:  Most people don’t realize the options they have when giving birth! A doula can help connect you with the information and research you need to make informed choices regarding care, both prenatal or during labor.  Doulas also have local resources and services at their fingertips including pelvic floor physical therapists, birth photographers, mother’s support groups, and lactation consultants.  

And here’s what doulas don’t:

Doulas are not a part of the health care team.  

They do not perform any medical procedures, tasks, or checks.  

They do not speak on behalf of the birth person.  

That being said, a doula is knowledgeable about the medical aspects of birth and the choices available. With a doulas support, you can feel good about advocating for yourself and navigate labor and birth with confidence.  

Benefits of having a doula:

Many women are surprised at the amount of time spent in labor without the presence of a medical professional. A doula, in contrast, provides continuous support, through shift changes, to the mother. 

Beyond the positive anecdotal stories of doula-attended births, the research is clear that doulas affect birth outcomes for the better!  According to Cochrane Review titled, Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth, having a doula present during labor and birth had the following effects:

  • Decreased use of pain medication, including epidurals
  • Decreased chance of requiring cesarean delivery
  • Decreased risk of low 5-minute APGAR scores
  • Shorter duration of labor
  • Increased reports of positive experiences of childbirth

Where to find a doula:

There are many ways to find doulas in your area!  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Ask a friend who had a doula 
  2. Ask your health care provider if they keep a list of local doulas or doula groups
  3. Internet search for your city’s doulas (i.e. Pittsburgh doulas)


I may be biased, but as a doula and mother, it’s vital to be able to fully understand your childbirth choice to be able to advocate for yourself in the process. A doula can help you explore multiple topics, make choices, and achieve a birth experience that leaves you feeling confident and empowered, no matter what the labor brings.


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About the author

Chelsea Johnson is a birth doula and certified breastfeeding specialist living in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. After graduating college and spending 8 years in a corporate gig, Chelsea left to pursue her passion for helping new moms and babies navigate the joy, and often uncertainty, that accompanies pregnancy, breastfeeding, and postpartum recovery. Birth aside, Chelsea’s recipe for a perfect day includes hockey watching, bread baking and coffee drinking. To learn more about Chelsea, visit Birth Doulas of Pittsburgh: http://www.birthdoulasofpittsburgh.com/chelsea-johnson.html

Questions? Email us at hello@mykudos.com

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