Doulas: What They Are and How They Can Help

If you’ve had a baby or you’re pregnant, it’s likely that the ancient Greek word ‘Doula’, interpreted as ‘Woman Care Giver,’ has cropped up at some point. But what exactly is a Doula, and how can they help? To find out more, we spoke to Mary Tighe, who’s worked as a Doula since 2006, and set up the agency DoulaCare Ireland with fellow Doula Jen Crawford, last year.

What is a Doula?

“What Doulas provide is experienced non-medical birth and post-partum support,” Mary begins. “During birth, we support the woman in early labour, we go to the house if needed, and then go on to the hospital with her. We provide physical, emotional and informational support.” One of the benefits of having a Birth Doula is that they’re a continuous presence throughout the birth. “In hospitals, shifts change every 12 hours”, says Mary. “We don’t change shift – we stay on and move with parents from antenatal room to the labour wards, so it’s a continuous presence.”

Support Post-Partum

Doulas can provide much-needed assistance after the birth too. “With post-partum support, we’re focusing on the family and helping them adjust to life with a new-born baby, both emotionally and practically” Mary explains. “A lot of us don’t live near family anymore, or our parents are older so they can’t help out even if they are nearby. That’s where the Doula might be able step in.”

Support can include things like putting on a wash, cooking dinner, offering breastfeeding support, letting Mum get some sleep or simply providing a listening ear. “We don’t go against evidence,” says Mary. “We encourage parents to find the best answers themselves; they’re the experts on their baby. One of our by-lines is ‘Help Your Family Thrive, not Just Survive.’”

Support for all the Family

A Doula can be an excellent source of support for partners too. “Often, we come to the house and the partner will have a million questions!”, says Mary. “They want to do what they can to help. We’ll explain various things – for example, when a woman’s breastfeeding, she’ll usually get really hungry, so it can be great to bring some food to her. We help give partners confidence, without taking over.”

Mary finds helping families adjust extremely rewarding.  “It’s lovely coming into a house and seeing a family in the early days, when everyone’s trying to get a rhythm. You know when you leave a few weeks later, there’s such a difference. They’ve found their stride and have that confidence."

Growing Popularity

Why does Mary think the popularity of Doulas is on the rise? “There’s actual evidence that Doulas help improve birth outcomes,” she notes. “There’ve been a couple of Cochrane reviews on Birth Doula support, and they’ve all shown that it leads to women feeling more satisfied after a birth, and less likely to get an epidural, induction or instrumental birth. There’s a lot more understanding of what a Doula is now, as there’s a lot more information readily available recently.”

“I think women like the idea of having extra support from someone who’s trained, and they’ve built a relationship with”, she adds. “And usually I find when somebody uses a Doula, their experience is so positive, they spread the word.”

You can find more information on DoulaCare Ireland on their website.  

Did you know that Irish Life Health members can avail of the Postnatal Supporter benefit? To help with the transition to parenthood, this benefit provides you with visits from a postnatal supporter (Doula) in the care of your own home after you leave hospital. They provide you with gentle and caring support to help your emotional and physical recovery, and even a few hours break if needed. This benefit is delivered by DoulaCare Ireland. Call us to find out more.