The Benefits and Purpose of having a Doula throughout your pregnancy.

What is a doula?

To celebrate the launch of VOYA's Mum to Be Range, available to buy now! This week on the blog, we are putting the spotlight on pregnancy, labour, postpartum and being a mum.

First up in our series, guest blogger Mary Tighe from DoulaCare Ireland shares some frequently asked questions about the benefits and purpose of hiring a Doula. Mary, a birth doula, joined forces with Jen Crawford to set up DoulaCare Ireland, the largest doula agency in the country. 

Consisting of a team of 17 doulas and rapidly growing, Mary tells us how the service of a doula can support expectant mums during every step of their pregnancy, birth and early parenting journey.

One of the questions I am most often asked is - what exactly is a doula?

The word ‘doula’ is a Greek one and has been interpreted as meaning ‘woman caregiver’. A doula is an experienced non-medical birth companion who provides continuous physical and emotional support to the Mum before, during and after her labour. Doulas usually have undertaken formal training with a doula organisation and are often mothers themselves. Emotional support can mean the doula being a familiar face and offering Mum reassurance and encouragement. Informational support can involve information gathering and explanation of procedures throughout pregnancy and during birth. While physical support can include comfort measures, massage, relaxation and positioning among other things. By providing continuous support through pregnancy, birth and beyond, doulas positively impact the childbearing experience for women and their families and reaffirm women's ability to give birth.

Why would a woman want a doula at their birth?

Well the evidence shows they improve birth experiences for women. The most recent research found that women having continuous support from a doula were less likely to have the oxytocin drip or have their labour end in a Caesarean Birth. Women who used a doula also felt significantly more positive about their birth experiences. Furthermore, it was found that women were less likely to ask for an epidural if they had doula support. 

Hiring a Doula

What about my birth partner - will they feel side-lined?

Often the woman’s birth partner will worry that if the couple hire a doula they will be left out. However, in my experience, doulas can be a fantastic resource for your birth partner as well. They can support and guide your partner offering them knowledge, information and tools to help you during your labour. Dads and same sex spouses are some of doulas biggest fans! Many women feel a strong need to have their partners present because of the strong emotional bond they share. Sometimes however, the partner can feel anxious or stressed by the responsibility they feel towards their loved one as they advance through labour. By having a doula present birth partners become more confident with all the information and reassurance provided, less overwhelmed and more effective in their ability to support the labouring mother. Having a doula there can also enable your partner to take a break - even just to go to the toilet or get some food.

One Dad wrote: “I can’t emphasise what a massive support Mary was to us during the birth and she in no way stole my thunder. If anything, Mary freed me up to enjoy the birth of our son and take on the role of supportive father. In addition, the fact that the birth was gruelling and long made Mary’s presence even more important.” - Joseph, First Time Dad, Cork

Are doulas just for parents having a home birth?

No - in fact the majority of our doulas attend hospital births. A doula can attend your birth in a hospital or home setting. All Irish hospitals have had doulas attend births there. Some, like the Coombe, even have a policy on doula support and recognise that families in Ireland find them a helpful support person

What does birth doula support involve?

Normally yourself and your partner will meet with a doula for an initial meet. This enables you both to ask questions and to get a sense of how you both gel with this doula. It gives you a chance to see if doula support is the right fit for your needs. This meeting would usually last from anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour, and there is no onus on the parents to book in after this. While it can be daunting to choose the right doula (there are a lot out there), a doula agency like Doula Care Ireland will take this pressure off and choose the doula for you - meaning that you won’t have to interview 3-4 different doulas before finding the right fit for you.

Once you decide to book in, you sign a contract and pay a deposit (with the balance normally payable around 35 weeks). Then you receive one or two antenatal visits during your pregnancy to help you write up your birth plan, listen to any fears or issues you may have, debrief previous birth experiences, offer information regarding tools to cope with labour, birth partner role etc. - topics depend on your individual needs.

 These visits are also a chance to talk about the benefits and risks of different options that can be offered to a couple during the birth. When labour begins, while a doula cannot speak up for the couple, they are able to remind them of the discussions during pregnancy so that they can make an informed decision on the day. These visits usually last approx. 2 - 3 hours in length. For the duration of your pregnancy you also have access to your doula via email or telephone for extra support if needed.

From 37 weeks on, your doula will be on-call for you, and when you go into labour is there to support you until your baby arrives. During this time the doula will be at the end of the phone day or night if needed. When labour begins the Mum usually calls the doula when she feels she needs that extra support - usually when labour is becoming more intense.  A doula will reassure the Mum and her partner, remind her how great she is doing, offer physical comfort measures to Mum to help her manage her labour, remind her to eat and drink, help her partner to support her - and a myriad of other supports. They will stay by your side until baby is born, and if you are breastfeeding will help support you with that first feed. 

New born baby

Are doulas only for those planning a drug free birth?

Often women think that since they are hoping for an epidural that they will not need a doula. However, a doula can be a great support with an epidural as well. They are there to keep Mum company if their partner needs to take a break, or if Mum is feeling anxious, provide comfort measures and they also have tools such as the peanut ball which can help Mums having an epidural (evidence shows women who used a peanut ball with an epidural had significantly shorter births and fewer Caesareans).  

After your baby is born there are normally 1-2 postnatal visits offered by your doula in which your doula can chat to you about how the birth went, offer some support around breastfeeding and new born baby behaviour, help you link in with other support groups that might be of help to you and see how you are doing mentally, emotionally and physically. Some women choose to hire a post-partum doula to help them when baby is born. A postpartum doula will help the family adjust to life with a new born baby, offering information on normal new born behaviour, practical support (feeding Mum, emptying the dishwasher, putting a clothes wash on, cooking a meal for the family, bathing baby) and emotional support (reassuring Mum, listening to any worries or fears she may have and so forth).

“We found the support of a doula very helpful. In our case, it was having a calming presence during the unplanned three-day labour induction process. We believe having a doula helped me avoid a C-section by default (I was very close to just throwing in the towel and requesting one at times).” - Monica, Second Time Mum, Dublin.

Is there anything else I need to know?

If meeting a potential doula, it can be useful to have a list of questions jotted down that you might want to ask.  Where did they train? What other training have they done? Are they a member of a professional doula organisation? Have they signed up to a Code of Ethics? One of the most important questions to ask is what would happen if the doula cannot attend the birth? Do they provide a backup? Is there an extra charge for this? Another helpful question is to find out what happens if your birth is long? Some doulas charge extra after 12 hours or 18 hours of labour.

“If you are thinking of hiring a doula I would not hesitate, it will only create a more positive and empowering birth experience for you which in my opinion is priceless.” - Louisa, First Time Mum, Cork

Find out more about Doula Ireland at

Doula Care Ireland