What is a doula?

A doula is someone who can support you one-to-one through your pregnancy, labour and birth, or after you have your baby.

Doulas can help parents in the run-up to the birth, during labour and after it, based on what you require. During labour and birth, they will offer practical and emotional support, no matter where or how you choose to give birth. They can also help with postnatal support once you are at home with your baby. 

While they are not required to have any training by law, many doulas complete basic training courses before they offer their services. Some organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) offer longer training courses through universities.

Doulas do not have to be medically trained. They are often experienced in other aspects of pregnancy and baby care, like pregnancy yoga and baby massage. They cannot replace the clinical care you will get from your midwife or doctor. Instead, they provide extra support and can help you find balanced information to make informed choices. 

Some doulas work as birth and postnatal doulas. Others work only as birth doulas, or purely as postnatal doulas. 

Most birth doulas can:

  • Meet you when you are pregnant and spend time getting to know you and your partner.
  • Provide practical and emotional support throughout pregnancy, labour and birth.
  • Support you no matter how you plan to give birth, whether it’s a planned caesarean birth, home birth or water birth.
  • Talk to you about any questions or concerns during your pregnancy and help you with your birth plan.
  • Provide one-to-one support during labour, reassuring you along the way.

Postnatal doulas tend to:

  • Provide practical and emotional support to you and your family.
  • Support you to be the parent you want to be.
  • Give you confidence when it comes to caring for your baby.
  • Support you with breastfeeding your baby.
  • Talk through any concerns or worries you might have as a new parent.

What are the benefits of having a doula?

There are lots of reasons you might like to have a doula. Research shows that people who have continuous support in labour and birth are less likely to have:

There is also some evidence that doula support improves both the experience of giving birth, and your baby’s health and wellbeing shortly after birth. Doulas can even help reduce the risk of preterm birth and low birth weight in some cases. 

Some people simply want someone around who they know and trust during labour. A doula can be your only birth partner or may form part of your birth team alongside another birth partner, such as your baby’s parent, your partner or a close friend or relative.

Others want someone who will get to know them well during pregnancy, as well as support them through labour. This continuity of care and support may matter a lot to you, and you may not see the same midwife during your antenatal appointments. 

A doula can speak up (advocate) for you during labour and birth. This might be helpful if you are vulnerable, anxious or have cultural or religious needs such as wanting to keep your body covered during birth.

We know that you are more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth if you are Black or Black Mixed Heritage. There are lots of reasons for this, but many people feel like they are not listened to and taken seriously. A doula could play a part in reducing that risk, as they can help you communicate, or back up your concerns.

How much do doulas cost?

The cost of doulas can vary widely. Some may charge per hour, or for a set support package. 

How much a doula charges, will depend on:

  • where they work
  • their level of experience
  • what they include in their fee
  • what they feel their service is worth
  • whether they are self-employed or work for an organisation.

As services and fees can vary, it is best to contact each doula and ask them. 

Doulas can be pricey, but you may be able to access free doula support during your pregnancy. Some organisations such as Doula UK provide support to people who are disadvantaged or vulnerable. You will need to be referred by a healthcare professional or social worker. Here are some other charities who can help: 

  • Elayos: Free doula services for vulnerable and isolated people in Birmingham.
  • Birth Companions: Support women in prisons and communities in parts of London and elsewhere in England.
  • Doulas Without Borders: A network of voluntary doulas across the UK, supporting people in vulnerable times and financial hardship during pregnancy, birth and early motherhood.

Cut the cost of hiring a doula by shopping around, looking for doulas who provide voluntary or pro bono support, or looking for mentored doulas (trainees) who may offer reduced rates.

Are doulas insured?

Not all doulas are insured, and some practise without training. (There is no national regulation.) It’s best to ask your doula about training and insurance when you contact them.

How can I find a doula?

The NCT has a doula service across England and Scotland. These doulas have all completed a 9-month course that’s recognised by Doula UK and developed by NCT in partnership with the University of Worcester. All NCT doulas have professional insurance.  

Doula UK is a membership association of doulas in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the Channel Islands. All members of Doula UK have completed a Doula UK-approved prep course and are encouraged to have appropriate insurance.  

And of course, you can search online for ‘doulas near me,’ or ask your midwife about local doulas.

Doulas often meet with potential clients before being booked. This gives you the chance to see if you are a good fit for each other.

Arteaga S, Hubbard E et al (2022) "They're gonna be there to advocate for me so I'm not by myself": A qualitative analysis of Black women's motivations for seeking and experiences with community doula care. Women Birth. 2022 Sep 8:S1871-5192(22)00318-3.

Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ et al (2017) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Jul 6;7(7):CD003766. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6.

Doula UK. What Doulas Do. Available at: https://doula.org.uk/what-doulas-do/ Accessed: 6 April 2023

Doula UK. Doula access fund. Available at: https://doula.org.uk/doula-access-fund/ Accessed: 6 April 2023

Doula UK. About doulas. Available at: https://doula.org.uk/about-doulas/ Accessed: 6 April 2023

Knight M, Bunch K et al (Eds.) on behalf of MBRRACE-UK (2019) Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care - Lessons learned to inform maternity care from the UK and Ireland Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths and Morbidity 2015-17. Oxford: National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford 2019. https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/assets/downloads/mbrrace-uk/reports/MBRRACE-UK%20Maternal%20Report%202019%20-%20WEB%20VERSION.pdf

NCT. What is a doula? Your questions answered. Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/who-will-care-for-you-during-pregnancy/what-doula-your-questions-answered (Page last reviewed: March 2018) Accessed: 6 April 2023

Ramey-Collier K et al (2023) Doula Care: A Review of Outcomes and Impact on Birth Experience. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2023 Feb;78(2):124-127. doi: 10.1097/OGX.0000000000001103.

Review dates
Reviewed: 07 February 2024
Next review: 07 February 2027