What is a doula?

You know you’ll have a midwife but when it comes to labour, where does a doula fit in? Here’s our guide to this role.

What is a doula?

A doula is a person who supports women through labour and birth, and/or after she has her baby (Mander, 2008; Doula UK, 2018).

A birth doula will:

  • meet the woman when she is pregnant and spend time getting to know her
  • provide one-to-one support during labour, working on her behalf if she needs something and reassuring her all the way.

(Mander, 2008)

A postnatal doula will:

  • care for the mother after the birth
  • help the new parents look after the baby (rather than looking after the baby for them herself).

(Doula UK, 2018)

Is a doula worth it?

Well, that’s up to you. There can be huge benefits to having a doula.

First, because they will be with you all the way through your pregnancy and labour (Bohren et al, 2017). That means you get to know them well, which can be very reassuring – especially if your maternity service can’t provide the same continuity.

Doulas can also provide continuous support during labour and birth. Research has found that continuous support during labour and birth is beneficial for women and for their babies (Bohren et al, 2017).

Doulas have also been shown to yield good results for vulnerable women or women who need more culturally sensitive support (Samele et al, 2015; Thomson and Balaam, 2016). So if that’s relevant to you, it might be worth seriously considering a doula as an option.

How can I find a good doula?

Check out NCT Doulas. Our doulas have all completed a nine-month course recognised by Doula UK and developed by NCT in partnership with the University of Worcester.

Some doulas practice without training. So if you choose to find your doula via another route, it’s a good idea to ask about training when you interview your potential candidate.

What if I want my doula to be more personal?

The definition of a doula is open to interpretation.

The priority for some women is being with someone who makes them feel comfortable and who they know and trust. If that’s you, ask your mum, sister or a friend who’s given birth themselves whether they’ll step in.

Another idea is asking a student midwife you have met to take on the role.

Some women who would otherwise birth without a birthing partner can access a doula at a nominal rate through the charity Birth Companions. It supports women in the community or in prison (Birth Companions, 2018).

Are doulas insured?

NCT doulas have professional insurance but this isn’t the case for all doulas. So do make sure you check.

This page was last reviewed in March 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about having a baby, labour and life with a new child.

For more information on doulas and what they do, check out Doula UK

NCT Doulas provide women, and their partners, with skilled physical and emotional assistance, as well as up-to-date knowledge, information and encouragement to help them have the type of labour and birth they would most like. NCT Doulas are all qualified professionals who have completed a nine-month course, developed by NCT in partnership with the University of Worcester, which is a recognised Doula UK course.

Birth companions. (2018) What we do. Available from: http://www.birthcompanions.org.uk/prison-services [Accessed 19th September 2017]

Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. (2017) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(7):CD003766. Available from: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6… [Accessed 19th September 2017]

Doula UK. (2018) What doulas do. Available from: https://doula.org.uk/what-doulas-do/ [Accessed 19th September 2017]

Mander R. (2008) The Doula. In: Supportive Care and Midwifery. John Wiley & Sons, Chichester:113-133.

Samele C, Clewett N, Pinfold V. (2015) Birth Companions commissioned literature review: supporting vulnerable pregnant women and new mothers in the community. Available from: http://www.birthcompanions.org.uk/media/Public/Resources/Ourpublications/Birth Companions_Literature_Review.pdf [Accessed 19th September 2017]

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