What is a doula?

When I tell people that I am at postnatal/postpartum doula I get asked a lot - what is that? 

Doula’s have been around since the beginning of time, but they haven’t been called doulas since the beginning of time. The term was coined some time in the 60s or 70s by Dr Dana Raphael. She was the first person to use the term in the modern sense and they way it is understood now. 

Birth doulas are now the most commonly known type doula, but when Dr Raphael coined the the term was originally she was referring to the postpartum/postnatal period.  Doula’s of all sorts would have and still do exists in all different cultures and communities. They are support people, they aren’t doctors or nurses who provide medical support. They play  a different role and provide the physical and emotional support we need as you move through a major transition in life. 

Now days there are birth doulas, postpartum/postnatal doulas, IVF doulas, death doulas and cancer doulas. The doula is able to provide you with physical and emotional support as you move through a major life event. My brother described  doulas the other day as ‘kind of like a tour guide’, they have made the transition you are going through their expertise, they understand the emotional roller-coaster and the medical system, they have a tool bag of tricks and tips to help you navigate the road ahead and can be the ‘useful outsider’ for what is usually an emotionally charged period of your life. 

But back to Dr Raphael, she coined the term because, as an anthropologist, she came to realise that other cultures (other than the dominant western culture) across the world had specific people in place that support new mothers in the first month or two and beyond. 

Birth doulas are an even newer modern concept than postpartum/postnatal doulas but each have an important role to play in supporting women and their families in the transition into parenthood. Of course as a postpartum/ postnatal doula I’m more interested in the later, but birth doulas play an important role in the physical birth of a baby. So here’s how Dr Dana Raphael describes the doula as she originally had intended: 

“The doula is a person who supports the mother so she can breastfeed... this is a really profound revelation. I had discovered that there was a psychological process, breastfeeding, that needed to something in place in their culture or else action function would not work. I don’t know of any other biological process that needs culture to supply support. In the case of breastfeeding the woman had to have another person present and supportive so the let-down reflex would work.” 

Want to find out more about getting the best support in your postnatal period? Sign up here to find out about my postnatal planning workshops. Looking for a doula? Head over the Doula Network Australia dictionary to find a doula in your hood. 

Image: Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash