Who is and what does a Doula do?

Although compared to a few years ago, the word doula is definitely better known and used in Italy, when I speak with women or other professionals, I realize that it is still not clear what this professional figure does and how. One thing that I now seem to be able to affirm is clear to everyone is that it is not a healthcare figure and that it deals with maternity supportunderstood as a comprehensive concept that each woman and each person defines in their own way. The professional figure of a doula is so difficult to describe because it has many different facets, it is very fluid in its role, and its work fully adapts to the needs of the mothers and families supported. The doula is dedicated to holistic care, but for her work,caregiving and emotional and practical supportare fundamental, allowing the experience of maternity to be valued as a profound transformative moment. Motherhood, at any age, with any outcome and mode, is one of the most powerful rites of passage in a woman's life and therefore brings with it a moment of crisis for which many resources need to be deployed. If the experience is lived with awareness, supported and assisted, the woman feels strengthened, empowered, fully in tune with her intuition and skills, as a mother and as a woman. The doula works precisely on this front and acts as a facilitator  so that every woman can feel that she has lived her experience in the best possible way, guided by her desires and needs. A central characteristic of a doula is that she can support women with very different ideas and visions about maternity and parenthood because she does not replace the family and their competencies but accompanies them on a part of their journey, walking the paths the family has chosen.

In modern times, the term doula was first used in 1966 by the anthropologist Dana Raphael to refer to an experienced woman who helps other women in the immediate postnatal period, but the term was already used in ancient Greece with the connotation of a slave, so much so that Greece is the only country that does not use the term doula today. The first training courses were held in the United States in the 1980s, while in Italy, we had to wait until 2007. Although the doula is not a healthcare figure, several studies show that women who have the support of a doula reduce the use of labor medications by 30-40%, have shorter labors by 25%, halve the chance of having a cesarean birth, and have 60% fewer epidurals, in addition to having better health outcomes for both mothers and babies.

To try to summarize the work of a doula, I draw inspiration from the list compiled by the sociologist and researcher Pamela Pasian in her book "Doulas in Italy – The emergence of a 'new' care profession." A doula:

  •  is a professional who takes care of mothers and families making them the protagonists of their experience;
  •  represents an innovative mode of care that offers flexible and personalized support;
  •  combines different systems of knowledge to meet the needs of mothers and families;
  •  puts trust mothers and their intuition;
  •  does not tell parents and mothers what they must do but rather helps them gather information that allows families to make decisions that feel more in tune with their history and desires;
  •  supports mothers and families without judgmentregardless of their choices on pregnancy, birth, and postpartum;
  •  uses a gentle and welcoming approach creating a safe and comfortable space for mothers and families.

If this description has piqued your curiosity and you would like to know more, you can book a non-binding introductory meeting..