What is a Doula?

With doulas gaining more renown, I am often surprised to encounter people who either have no idea about the role of a doula or have some pretty major misinformation. I recently met with someone who kept apologizing profusely for what she expressed as her “airy-fairy, hippie” misconceptions.

The media usually doesn’t help – like in this commercial, which implies that doulas support dolphin-assisted water births.

But to give credit where credit is due, there are certain instances when the media has gotten it right. You may have noticed June’s doula in the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale – that’s an amazing local Toronto doula, supporting her through her birth!

Generally speaking, doulas offer support across three broad non-medical areas, including emotional, physical, and informational realms. 

But what does that really mean? And how can a doula really help you?

Here’s the real breakdown of what to expect when you choose to work with a doula. And please make note – unless you’re using one as part of a visualization or affirmation, doulas do not provide dolphins as part of their support packages.

Shorter and happier births. The evidence on doula support is clear – the presence of a doula helps improve satisfaction rates and helps ease the birth and postnatal processes. According to a variety of studies on doula care, it has been noted that continuous labour support decreases the use of medical interventions and increases the rate of a spontaneous, vaginal birth. Continuous doula support is associated with a shorter length of labour, higher APGAR scores for newborn babies, and it positively affects the maternal-infant bond and reduces complications related to labour and delivery.

It has also been shown that birthers who have doula support actually feel less pain than people that do not have a doula present. According to Evidence-Based Birth’s recent article on doula care, “The doula effect … is related to attachment… the doula enhances oxytocin release which decreases stress reactions, fear, and anxiety, and increases contraction strength and effectiveness. In addition, the calming effect of the doula’s presence increases the mother’s own natural pain coping hormones (beta-endorphins), making labour feel less painful.” This also continues into the postnatal stage – the new stressors of parenting are more easily digested, with positive support. Isn’t that incredible?

Zero judgments. Choosing to birth without pain medication? Know that you want an epidural? Still deciding between cloth and disposable diapers? Doulas will support your informed decisions, in any area of care, and help guide you at any point.

Informed decision making. Doulas are non-medical professionals, and will never make decisions, or speak, for you. In fact, birth and postnatal satisfaction is so tied to our autonomy and sense of control, that your support team may advise, but should not decide anything for you. What doulas do offer is a broad range of informational offerings, via referrals to perinatal professionals (i.e. massage therapists, chiropractors, mental health professionals, lactation consultants etc.), extensive lending libraries, journals, online resources and their own extensive knowledge of the perinatal world.

Essentially, doulas work alongside your medical care providers and your support team, helping you digest the wide range of information coming at you, and make sure that you are informed every step of the way.

Nourishment and hydration. Birth is a marathon and nourishment is essential to keep you going. Whether it’s ice chips, a smoothie or nourishing energy bites, birth doulas help keep you optimally hydrated and fed.

Postnatal doulas continue this care to help keep your healing body nourished by preparing in home snacks or meals.

Moving with you. Doulas are there while you sway on a birth ball. They’ll guide you into new positions, dance with you to your birth playlist, pace the room with you, or sit by your side. Doulas know that movement is key to birth and they’re by your side, whatever your side may be doing, the whole way through.

Many postnatal doulas have skills in postnatal pilates, yoga, or other exercises, including baby wearing, and can also help you move in optimal ways for your unique needs.  

Empathy and active listening. Our words and desires matter during these pivotal perinatal transitions in our lives. Doulas offer empathetic ears at any stage during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, to help process and adjust to these very new and often overwhelming scenarios. Plus, they are exceptionally good at hand holding!

Hands On Support. The double hip squeeze, TENs machines, rebozos, peanut balls, acupressure and counter pressure – doulas are well versed in the physical comforts and tools that can be used to ease the birth process. The continuity of care, also makes sure that if you have a partner involved, they are able to rest and nourish themselves while you are never left alone.

Postnatally, this may look like clean and folded laundry, holding your baby while you sleep, exploring tips and tricks of baby care, breastfeeding and feeding support, and suggestions on baby item essentials, among other things.

Growing, birthing and raising children is a feat, that can feel daunting and insurmountable at times. With the experienced support of a doula, families are offered the space to trust themselves and their babies and become the true heroes of their own parenting journey.

Looking for a doula near you?

Having the support of a doula is a personal one and you do want to find the right fit for you and your family. Check out this link to start you on your search:

About Kate

Kate SissonsKate is a Birth and Postpartum Doula, Childbirth Educator, Infant Sleep Educator and Yoga Instructor, currently living in Toronto, ON. When she’s not supporting new families on their parenting journey, she is running after her wonderfully active almost 4-year-old twins. She loves exploring the ravines of the city, drinking green tea and green smoothies (in large mugs), and the colour purple.

For more information about Kate and her support services, visit or visit her on Facebook.