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What is a Doula?

March 14, 2017

Our Editor-in-Chief has attended nearly 100 births as a doula, but there was a time not so long ago when she had no idea that there was such a thing. 


When I first became a doula after the birth of my second child, I found it challenging to explain what that meant. “I’m a doula”, I’d say, and inevitably I would be met with a blank stare.  Occasionally, I get a tentative “you’re a doula? Is that like a midwife?”   So, I give my pat answer.  “I offer support to women when they’re having their babies.  I’m the only person – other than a partner or spouse – who is with the mom from the time she is in active labor until after the birth of the baby.”  This works at cocktail parties, but I find it to be a poor generalization of what a doula really is.  So, here goes.

First, I’d like to explain what a doula doesn’t do. Doulas are not midwives. We are not nurses. We are not clinicians. We do not offer specific medical advice. A doula does come with a wealth of knowledge and insight into the normal birthing process, offering unconditional support and comfort both prenatally and throughout the birth and postpartum periods of motherhood.  Prenatally, we provide information about hospital protocol and possible interventions, as well as their pros and cons. We discuss birthing preferences and priorities so that we can offer the most specific and specialized support possible to our clients. We bring our knowledge of labor and faith in women’s bodies to every birth. Our primary goal is to give you the conviction and confidence to deliver your baby safely while honoring your birth choices.

Another misconception about doulas the idea that we replace partners or spouses. On the contrary, part of my job as a doula is to ensure that you have the best birth possible, and this means that partners are as involved as they would like to be. A good doula is a gentle guide throughout labor and birth as well as a facilitator of the relationship between moms and their partners. I have a wide breadth of knowledge about birth, but partners provide an intimacy that I cannot replicate. While my primary focus may be to empower moms and give them faith in their body’s ability to birth their baby, I want to empower partners to be involved and invested in the process as well.

Research shows that the presence of a doula improves maternal and neonatal outcomes and decreases the number of interventions, including lowering the rates of cesarean section. To be frank, in today’s culture of hyper-managed pregnancy and birth, women are faced with higher rates of inductions, unnecessary interventions, and a risk of coming away from their birth feeling unsatisfied or traumatized. While a doula will never completely remove the possibility of any of these things, we can encourage you to make positive and logical decisions about your pregnancy and birth and provide unconditional support for every choice you make throughout the process.

So, at the risk of sounding like a public service announcement: Have the birth you’ve always dreamed about. Hire a doula.


Mollie Michel is a South Philly resident and a Philadelphia public school parent. A recovering non-profit professional, Mollie is also an experienced birth doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, and the mom of two awesome girls and a sweet pit bull named Princess Cleopatra. In her spare time, she is usually trying to figure out how Pinterest works, training for a(nother) half-marathon with her dog at her side, or simply trying to keep up with her increasingly wily daughters.