What Does A Doula REALLY Do?

If you’ve been researching doulas and what they can offer during childbirth, you’ve probably read something like the following on a thousand websites:

“Doulas offer resources and education during prenatal and postpartum visits,  provide emotional and physical support as comfort measures during birth,and advocate for your birth choices”

But what does a doula do during the actual birth process? What does doula support really look like on the big day (or days) of birthing?

I’ve been lucky as a Vancouver birth doula to work with multiple birth photographers who’ve captured some great moments of what a doula looks like in action.  Pictures are worth a thousand words…

A doula will help you track your birthing sensations and help you decide when to call your midwife or head to the hospital:

Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

… when you’re in the birth process, it can be really helpful to just do your thing and not get caught up in clock-watching. A watched-pot and all that. Whether you are having a home birth or a hospital birth, a doula can support you before your midwife arrives or before you go to the hospital by helping you be as comfortable as possible, reassuring you that everything is normal, and helping you keep an eye on the pattern of sensations so you can focus on birthing!

A doula will get your birthing pool set up

(if you’re having a home water-birth):

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

…if you are planning a home water birth, a birth pool is an amazing thing to have on hand. Birth Takes a Village clients get use of my birth pool for free with select doula packages. Some other Vancouver doulas also have their own pools for you to use or rent for your birth.

A doula will help you get settled in at the hospital

(if you are having a hospital birth):

Vancouver Doula, Jessica Austin

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Megan Taylor Photography, Vancouver

…if you are having a hospital birth, a doula can help you on the move from home to hospital. It is ideal to stay home for as long as possible, and a doula can make this easier to accomplish by helping you feel more comfortable and supported at home, supporting you in the car ride, and making sure you know where to go and what to do upon arriving at the hospital. 

A doula will work with your partner to help you get comfortable:

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

…doulas and dads make really good teams. I gave the mom in the above photo the hip-squeeze during every sensation (for at least 10 hours!), while dad provided lots of love and a sense of familiar safety.  We took turns refilling her water glass and getting her cool cloths. Dads and doulas are usually very good friends by the end of a birth… he will text or call during early birthing to keep your doula posted and get tips for how to best support you, and they will work together to help you feel relaxed and comfortable.

A doula will wipe your brow & remind you to breathe

(Birth Takes a Village’s Aquaborn Birth Pool in action at a home birth):

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver

…often the things clients appreciate the most about doula support are the little things. A cool cloth appearing on your forehead at just the right moment. A calm smile and someone who will simply breathe with you. Passing your partner a glass of water to hold up to your lips between sensations. Sitting with a lot of women during birth allows your doula to pick up on what you want without you needing to come out of “labour-land” to ask for it, often before you even realize you want it.

She’ll squeeze your hips (trust me, it feels GOOD!):

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Megan Taylor Birth Photography, Vancouver

… I keep talking about the hip-squeeze. Birthing women REALLY seem to like it. Your doula can also show your partner how to do it, both so he can take credit for giving you some awesome comfort, and so her biceps get a break (it’s harder to sustain than it looks!)

She’ll help your partner feel confident:

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

…feeling at ease in the birth room is often much easier for dads if there is a doula present. In a much earlier post, I talk about men and birth and how their feeling confident and trusting of the birth process is key to their providing positive support to a birthing mom.

Sometimes, your doula may even let your membranes release on her

(although we try to avoid that… sometimes you just end up in the most unexpected positions!):

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

…check out dad applying the counterpressure I taught him to do on mom’s back! She seems to be enjoying it!

A doula will watch Frasier with you between sensations when you’re in very active birthing

(Okay, this isn’t common at EVERY birth, but I swear, it really happened once):

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

…I don’t have a doulas-are-awesome sales pitch for this one. But it was one of my most memorable doula moments, and a lot of fun between rounds of giving the infamous hip-squeeze and back massages together with this client’s partner. So calm you can watch a sitcom… that’s Hypnobabies for ya! I am SO happy Jackie Dives, who often attends births with me as a photographer, was there to catch this shot (and so are the parents!).

And she’ll snap mediocre photos so your partner can enjoy the moment

(if you haven’t also hired a professional birth photographer to get those really yummy shots!):

Photo : Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver

…if you like, your doula will do her best to take a photo or two. As you can see from the above photos, our hands and bodies are often tied up and out of commission for photo taking during the birth process. And although we can capture amazing moments like this one, the quality clearly doesn’t compare to the photos from the professional birth photographers!

Your doula will tidy up post-home-birth…

(you’ll never know you birthed in your living room if you have a home birth.  We can even whisk away your placenta and encapsulate it if you like):

Photo: Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver

…after a home birth, I usually try to toss in a load of laundry (birth takes a lot of towels!), load the dishwasher, and just do a general tidy-up so you and your partner can focus on your new baby. Most doulas will disassemble the birth pool if you were using one.

A doula supports you with words of encouragement (and her arms and shoulders):

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

…sometimes, all you need is someone to whisper “just like that”, “the sensations are only as strong as you are”, or guide you through relaxing your body between sensations. Other times, what you’ll want is someone to support your leg or a shoulder to prop your foot up on. Sometimes, you want all three at once while dad holds your hand.

She’ll guide you through your first round of breastfeeding:

Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

… the first moments of breastfeeding are bonding time for you and baby. A little nuzzle at your breast gets your baby a few drops of colostrum and stimulates oxytocin and milk production. Your doula can help you feel confident and comfortable as you play with breastfeeding for the first time.

She will share in your emotion:

Photo of Jessica, Birth Takes a Village Doula, Vancouver
Photo Credit: Morag Hastings, Apple Blossom Families, Vancouver Birth Photography

…there is simply nothing like a good hug when you need one!

… And she’ll step back while you enjoy some really precious moments:

Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

Photo Credit: Jackie Dives, Vancouver Birth Photographer

Photo Credit: Meagan Taylor Photography

Photo Credit: Morag Hastings, Apple Blossom Families, Vancouver

I feel so lucky to have been part of the births in these photographs providing doula support to Vancouver families. And luckier still to have worked with professional Vancouver birth photographer Morag Hastings (from Apple Blossom Families), as well as Jackie Dives and Megan Taylor who captured the spectacular photos of myself and my doula clients above!

In addition to what is captured here, doulas do a lot of behind-the-scenes work, like making sure everyone is fed and hydrated, giving the father or partner a well-deserved rest periodically, getting medical staff copies of your birth plan and reminding staff of your priorities.

If circumstances change during the birth and new options are presented to you, your doula will help you ask important informed consent questions to make sure you feel like you understand your choices and can make informed decisions.

What’s the moral of the story?

Get a doula. Add a birth photographer. Have a gentle and informed birth, and remember it with photos you will always treasure.

Explore further details about my doula services, or call 604-700-4115 to set up a free initial interview. Make sure to ask about adding a birth photographer to your team, as well!

If you’re interested in becoming a doula yourself, check out our Wise Woman Way of Birth doula training program.

I Want a Doula | I want to be a Doula 

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  31 comments for “What Does A Doula REALLY Do?

  1. Aliy
    September 3, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Theses are just beautiful :’)

  2. Sazi Valair
    July 27, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    Awesome summary of what doulas do! I am sharing this on my blog if you don’t mind! :)

  3. Amor e luz
    April 9, 2013 at 4:12 am

    I have been researching about Doulas and by the images I see in the web, a doula is a service that is provided to white middle class people. The prohibitive costs of learning the skills, setting an office and etc, makes only possible for a certain segment of society to have this opportunity.How many doulas offer their services to women most at risk in our world society? We need to ponder that, everything to facilitate the life of a child, is so important to the whole of society. Children born under the most precarious circumstances will lead a life that will burden the whole society. The attention we don’t give to the most needed members of our communities, we will have to pay later under very strenuous circumstances.

    • April 9, 2013 at 7:49 am

      Quite a lot actually! It’s incredible how many doulas volunteer their time to women who cannot afford to pay for support! Of course, the women who have volunteer doulas typically don’t hire birth photographers :-) . There are some amazing volunteer organizations, for example, there is Sheway here in Vancouver, and an American Organization exists called Birth Behind Bars which serves women in prison, among other organizations and individuals who volunteer their time. You are right though, just like with any service (not just doula work or birth work in general), the at risk segment of the population is always at a disadvantage in our capitalist society. I dream of a day where that is not the case :-)

    • April 9, 2013 at 7:51 am

      Also, you may be interested in the Radical Doula Project: http://radicaldoula.com/!

    • Whisperingpine
      September 9, 2015 at 11:37 pm

      I’ve been a birth doula for 16 years. Almost every birth has been voluntary. I know few people who can afford to pay extra for a doula. Personally I feel that hospitals should hire birth doulas and have laboring women with one and not use any form of a drug until absolutely necessary. Each women should have a nice bathtub or birthing pool as well; this would relieve at least 50% of all discomfort, making natural childbirth a definite possibility.

  4. Mars Lord
    February 5, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I remember watching Glee with one of my ladies. It’s all about the moment. 😀

  5. Sam Talbot
    December 11, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Great post! Really sum’s it up well.

  6. November 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    This is amazing! I’ve had two amazing water births with only my beautiful midwives present. Thanks you for sharing what birth can and should be x Found you via Documenting Delight on fb! x

  7. November 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Love this post, Jessica. I am in awe of you! What amazing moments you must witness in your career. Thanks for sharing x

  8. Lelayna Klein
    November 1, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Thank you – such a great write up on what we doulas do. I am looking forward to sharing this with my clients and fb fans…. In reference to your sitcom-watching labor.. I was with a mama at home laboring to Ted Kennedy’s funeral a few years ago. surreal!

  9. Billie Wallace Yarrow
    November 1, 2012 at 3:13 am

    This is a lovely post. I’m looking forward to having more of a look around the rest of your site. I had a friend/student midwife at my home birth who did all the doula type things and it was amazing. Such a joyful experience!

    • November 2, 2012 at 12:40 am

      Thanks Billie! Glad to hear you had an amazing home birth experience!

  10. November 1, 2012 at 3:12 am

    I wanted to know more about doulas for a while. Thanks for writing this! 

  11. bbandb
    November 1, 2012 at 1:55 am

    I’m just starting out with my doula studies, your post has inspired me, thank you so much. 

  12. Evi
    October 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    I allready thought about having a doula last time, but wasn’t sure if I really needed one.. now I think, it would have been very nice to have one around.. so next time i think I’ll have to have one :)

  13. October 31, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Now, I really know what a doula is!

  14. Sarah Joseph
    October 30, 2012 at 10:09 am

    I’m in tears! Beautiful post Jessica. I’m so excited to get back to doulaing after my maternity leave and this post reminded me why. Thanks so much….gotta go get a tissue. 

  15. Cornelia
    October 29, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    at my very first birth my client and I watched Father of the Bride 2 all through her early labor. It was a lot of fun and still makes me smile, especially when mom and daughter both go into labor. Lucky for us, her birth was a lot less dramatic but miraculous nevertheless…

  16. Shannon
    October 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Sharing this on my doula FB page too. The part about watching Frasier cracked me up. I have a distinct memory of watching ‘Friends’ with one of my clients in-between contractions. It actually was such an awesome memory to see her laugh and work through those contractions every few minutes.  

    • October 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm

      lol…. thanks for sharing it on your page! Watching sitcoms during birth is fun… glad you can relate! haha

  17. Sharon
    October 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Don’t have photos from my experiences but all the above it so true. Beautifully done!

  18. October 29, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    LOVE this post with all the visuals! :-)

  19. Marlo
    October 29, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Love this Jessica!  Great sense of humour too!

  20. Valleydoula
    October 29, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Awesome Jessica. I am sharing this on my prenatal page. You are amazing. Carmen

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