What is a doula and do I really need one?

Pregnancy can be a truly wonderful time, your body is blooming and you’re looking forward to the day when you finally get to meet your beautiful new baby.

But pregnancy can also be an exhausting, confusing and downright scary time too! You’ve probably got a million and one questions and random thoughts running through your head every day. Stuff like…

Is my baby to big, or to small? Is it too small?

Should I breastfeed? How do you even breastfeed anyway? What if I can’t?

How do I want to give birth, and where? What are my options? What if something goes wrong?

Will I ever stop feeling nauseous? And my ankles… what’s going on there?!

Should I try hypnobirthing? Perhaps pregnancy yoga… or pregnancy massage? Pregnancy massage sounds nice, but is it safe?

A doula can help with all these things… and many more! She’s there to guide and support you on your pregnancy journey. She won’t tell you what to do, but she’ll make sure you know all your options and help you come to decisions that suit you and your baby best.

But what is a Doula and what do they actually do?

Despite the role having been around for hundreds of years, there’s often a bit of confusion about what a modern doula does and doesn’t do. Are they all tie-dye, peace charm wearing hippies who chant their way through your birth, incense in one hand, scented candle in the other?

What is a doula and do I really need one?

Not a doula!



Do they replace or play the role of your midwife, doctor or husband during pregnancy and birth?

Definitely not.

Do they attend births? The whole birth – even if it’s 24 hours long and starts at 2am?

Yes they do!

We were curious about what women thought about the role of doula and the service we provide so we asked  the question…

“What do you think a doula does?”

We got lots of lovely and interesting answers, from…

“A knowledgeable and kind person who helps a mother through the whole birth experience.”


 “It’s someone you hire to support you in birth and the lead up to the birth! Like a birthing partner, great if partner is not around, or just for extra support!”


 “I thought it was a posh name for a hired nanny.”


“They’re all about home births, I don’t think a doula goes to hospital with you.”

So what does a doula actually do? And how could they help support you during pregnancy, birth and beyond?

The role of a doula

Modern medicine means that women are surrounded by people from around the 12th week of their pregnancy, right up until birth. But usually these are all different people, in different professions, in different locations. All relying on the big pack of notes you’re carrying around to work out what’s best for you and your baby.

A doula provides continuous care from early in your pregnancy, right through to birth and sometimes afterwards too. She gets to know you and your growing bump very well!


Most doula-client relationships begin with an interview to make that you’re comfortable with your doula and their way of working. Once you’ve decided to hire a doula, head over to our doula directory listings to find one near you.

Invite your potential doula for a chat to see if you’re a good ‘fit’. Remember to ask about how long they work with clients for, what specialisms they may have (many doulas also provide pregnancy massage, breastfeeding support or a placenta encapsulation service) and how much they charge. Ask to see testimonials and talk about their existing birth experience.

You’ll see your doula at regular intervals during pregnancy and she’ll probably provide telephone and email support to. If you have a questions, worries or concerns your doula will provide guidance and support, sharing her knowledge and experience with you and pointing you towards more sources of knowledge so that you can make the best choices for you and your baby.

One of the most important things a doula does is provide emotional care and support – particularly useful if you face complications during your pregnancy or need to make a difficult decision, like opting for planned c-section because of potential health complications.

On that topic, your doula won’t abandon you if you decide to have a planned, or ask for an epidural or decide not to breastfeed. Doula’s aren’t there to judge and they’re not there to pressure you into things you don’t want to do. In fact, there are even doulas who provide specialist cesarean birth support.


As you approach your due date your doula will go ‘on call’ and will be available for you 24/7. Once you go into labour, she’ll attend your birth, providing you with reassurance, care and support. During the early stages of labour a doula will usually come to your home and then travel with you if you’re giving birth at a hospital or birthing unit.

If you go into labour suddenly and need to hurry into hospital, don’t worry, your doula will get there as soon as she (or he) can and stay with you until you’ve given birth and are happily settled with your baby.

Most doulas are total birth pros and although every birth is different, they can provide help and suggestions on comfort, positioning, pain relief and much more. If your partner is there, your doula will support them too. Helping them to be involved as much or as little as they feel comfortable with.

Once you’re home with your baby your doula will visit you at least once, usually to help you settle in to life as a new mum, answer any questions you might have (you’ll have loads!) and talk about the birth with you. This can be especially helpful if you had a challenging  birth or needed to have an emergency caesarian birth. Research shows that a difficult birth can have a long-lasting and powerful effect on a mother’s physical and mental wellbeing. Having someone to talk to can really make a big difference.

So there you have it! The role of a doula in a nutshell. If you’re looking for a doula near you, start with a peek at our directory listings. There’s  lots of doulas from around the UK and beyond, all approved by Nurturing Birth.