Maternity Peer Support: What is a doula?
A doula or Maternity Peer Supporter (MPS) is a trained, non-medical professional that provides continuous informational, social, physical, and emotional support throughout pregnancy, birth, and post-partum.
Maternity Peer Support & Health Equity
Due to the long-term, personalized, and culturally congruent support offered by doulas, they are uniquely positioned to mitigate health disparities and help improve the experience of navigating the maternal healthcare system.
Doulas assist families to acquire the knowledge and tools they need to exercise their right to make informed maternal health decisions. Their role is to empower pregnant people to communicate openly and confidently with their healthcare providers about their birth options, preferences, and questions.
Doula support during pregnancy is typically in the area of birth preparation: identifying birth preferences, practicing labor positions and comfort techniques, going over the phases of labor and what to expect in each phase, and discussing what options and rights a woman/birthing person has in the delivery room. A doula also helps a new family prepare for the transition to post-partum and newborn life, unpack any worries or fears, and instill a sense of confidence.
A doula is “on-call” from ~38 weeks and accompanies the birthing person in their home, birth center, or hospital, staying with them from the moment they’re needed until after the baby and placenta have been birthed. A doula physically and emotionally supports the birthing person during labor and helps facilitate the role of their partner.
Doulas are not midwives or doctors. While a doula focuses on individualized support for one person at a time, midwives often attend to several people in labor and are responsible for many clinical and administrative tasks besides direct labor support.
Easing the transition into newborn parenting can look different for every family, but may include lactation/bottle-feeding insight, helping to emotionally process the birth, or lending an empathetic ear in what is a particularly hormonal time in a person’s life. An essential role of the doula post-partum is not only to check in on their client’s physical wellbeing, but also to provide emotional support, reassurance, and nourishment in whatever capacity is needed. Some doulas offer additional services such as overnight stays, picking up groceries, or watching older children so that the new parents can shower, nap, or have a moment to themselves.
Scope of Practice
Doulas do NOT:
- Give medical advice
- Diagnose illnesses
- Prescribe or give medicines, treatments, or drugs
- Provide clinical or medical tasks, such as checking cervical dilation, monitoring fetal heartbeat, or delivering babies
- Speak for their client or make decisions for the client
Doulas as Advocates
A doula advocates for the client’s wishes as expressed in their birth plan, prenatal conversations, and intrapartum discussion, by encouraging them to ask their midwife questions and to express their preferences or concerns. It’s very important that both parties recognize that the advocacy role does not include the doula speaking instead of the birthing person or making decisions for them. The advocacy role is best described as streamlining the communication between the client and care provider.
In the past year, EBM has supported families in Germany from five continents.
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