A doula (/ˈduːlə/), also known as a birth companion or post-birth supporter, is a nonmedical person who assists a person before, during, or after childbirth, as well as her spouse and family, by providing physical assistance and emotional support. The provision of continuous support during labour is associated with improved maternal and fetal health and a variety of other benefits, including lower risk of induction and interventions and less need for pain relief. These benefits are particularly significant when continuous support is provided by someone who is not there as family/friend or as medical staff (i.e. a doula). Additionally, a doula is sometimes hired to work with families beyond the postpartum stages, providing continued physical and emotional support, for as long as needed (sometimes, this support can be ongoing for several years).
These days most doulas will have completed some training to prepare them for the role. However, the title can be used by anyone. The goal of a doula is to ensure the mother and her partner feel safe and confident before, during, and after birth. Doulas not trained by a formal organization can be controversial within medical settings due to a lack of formal medical education when a discussion regarding medical interventions in labor versus pursuing natural childbirth without an epidural or caesarean section arises; however, the role of the doula is not to offer medical advice.
Sometimes the term doula can also refer to a non-medical person who assists critically ill elderly people.