Most people, especially those working with women of the childbearing age, are by now familiar with the term ‘doula’.
Put very simply, a doula is a woman who is trained to support another woman through her childbearing year. Specifically, a
doula provides prenatal education and support; she accompanies her client through labour and childbirth; and she assists in
the sometimes difficult transition to motherhood.
As studies show (Klaus & Kennell et al), a healthy birth experience provides an important foundation for positive parenting.
If a woman gives birth in an environment where she feels supported and loved, she will better be able to cope with the demands
of her new baby and her new life. Professional doulas see the benefits for all of the women they serve – how much more
so for women who are disadvantaged. For a woman who is struggling with poverty, isolation, abuse, refugee or non-status issues
or other difficulties, having professional support during her labour and birth can make a huge difference. For some of these
women, it will be the first time ever that they have experienced a safe supportive environment, and at this vulnerable time
it can provide the new mother with an invaluable lesson. This foundation of unconditional caring and acceptance created during
a child’s first hours will encourage healthier parenting patterns and these patterns could make the difference between
successful and dysfunctional mothering.
A trained doula can also help a woman during her pregnancy by identifying risk factors and providing referrals to appropriate
sources. For example, an isolated pregnant woman is often a woman who does not follow a proper diet. The presence and support
of a trained doula providing nutritional suggestions and encouragement can make the difference between a low birth weight,
high risk baby who costs the taxpayer thousands of dollars in intensive neonatal care, and a healthy baby who can be competently
cared for by his/her own mother. Studies have consistently shown that the presence of a doula significantly reduces the rate
of cesarean sections, requests for epidurals, and shortens labour times. These statistics are significant in light of present-day
pressures on the hospital system.
What Is Our Mandate?
Our mandate is twofold:
1. to provide low-income or otherwise disadvantaged women with free doula services
2. to train “peer doulas” within the ethnically or urally isolated areas of our city, thus providing women
with doulas who are sensitive to their peers’ ural needs. This will provide low-or no-income women with education
and a viable means of economic support.
The doula is clearly a recognised part of the maternity health care team. At present, professional doulas are part of the
private health care sector, and one of the goals of the larger doula organisations is to convince insurance companies to recognise
the role of doula in maternal health.
Funding community doula programs is at present the responsibility of the private sector. It is our belief that public health
organisations will realize that this service actually cuts costs and will eventually support it financially. A project of
this sort is clearly beneficial - not only to the underprivileged women it serves, but also to the future trainee doulas,
to the communities involved, and to society as a whole.