Doulas 101:Evolution Of The Doula Profession
What Does The Word “Doula” Mean?
The term “doula” is a Greek word that refers to “a person of service” and it was popularized in the 1970s by the American anthropologist Dana Raphael, who was a strong proponent of postpartum support. Raphael used the term “doula” in her book, The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding, to describe the vital role of non-medical care-givers who offer support to parents during the postpartum.
Not long after, Dr. Marshall Klaus and Dr. John Kennell began conducting research on the medical outcomes of childbirth when continuous care is provided throughout labor by a non-medical support person. Klaus and Kennel also adopted the term “doula” to refer to these birth companions and their research revealed significant medical benefits to doula-assisted births.
The term doula was still relatively unknown in the 70s and 80s but started to gain greater recognition by the 1990s and was finally accepted into dictionaries in the early 2000s. Today the word “doula” is synonymous with birth and postpartum support.
The History Of Doulas
There are records of childbirth companions that date back to prehistoric times and up until the last century birthing people traditionally had midwives, family, or community members to support and guide them through childbirth. However, as birth moved out of the home and into the hospital, the role of labor support was abandoned during the medicalization of childbirth. To fulfill people’s continued need for birth support in more modern times, professional doulas arose in the 1970s as a part of the birth movement and they have been gaining in numbers, professionalism, and recognition ever since.
In 1989, Penny Simkin wrote her seminal book, The Birth Partner: Everything You Need To Know To Help A Woman Through Childbirth, which helped to popularize doulas and their important role in the birth room. A few years later in 1992, Doulas Of North America (DONA International) was founded and it was the first organization to train and certify birth and postpartum doulas. Then in 1993, Klaus, Klaus, and Kennel published their landmark book, Mothering The Mother: How A Doula Can Help You Have A Shorter, Easier, and Healthier Birth.
Today there are multiple organizations all over the world training birth and postpartum doulas and dozens of books about doula care that has been modernized for contemporary audiences and inclusivity. Each year more and more families are searching out doula care to fill in the gaps created by large-scale, depersonalized medical systems and to increase the rate of positive birth outcomes.
What Is The Difference Between A Doula And Midwife?
Doulas and midwives both believe that birth is a normal physiological process and work to improve people’s childbirth experiences, but their roles are quite distinct.
Midwives are medially trained professionals who are responsible for the physical health and safety of the birthing person and baby. Like doctors, midwives order medical tests, draw labs, take measurements, assess fetal heart tones, catch babies, and perform a wide range of clinical exams and procedures. Midwives also provide clients with information and emotional support, but their top priority is to ensure medical safety.
Doulas, on the other hand, do not give medical advice or perform any clinical tasks. They are free of medical responsibilities and therefore able to focus entirely on improving the overall experience of birthing people and their partners. Doulas focus on the emotional, mental, and physical needs of their clients by taking the time to really listen and validate people’s feelings and experiences. Doulas provide comfort and guidance by offering understanding, evidence based information, and a wide variety of hands-on physical techniques that reduce discomfort and help labor to progress.