Can my friend/mom/sister be like a doula?

Many women choose to have close friends and/or family present at their births. This is desirable and positive when a woman chooses to surround herself with supportive loving people for her birth. But can these people act as a doula for the laboring woman as well?

A new research article has found that, no, they can't provide the same benefits as a professional trained doula.



While having continuous emotional support during active labor is still beneficial compared to having no such support, the benefits are greatest when: "the caregiver was neither a member of the hospital staff nor a person in the woman's social network, and was present solely to provide one-to-one supportive care, such as a doula. Compared with women who had no continuous support, women with companions who were neither on the hospital staff nor in the woman's social network were:


  • 28% less likely to have a cesarean section
  • 31% less likely to use synthetic oxytocin to speed labor
  • 9% less likely to use any pain medication
  • 34% less likely to rate their childbirth experience negatively" (1, emphasis added)

In addition, "support by companions selected from the woman’s social network (e.g., partner, husband, other relative, friend) was associated with increased satisfaction, but did not seem to impact use of obstetric interventions." (2)

In other words, it is a good idea to include friends and family in your labor room if you wish them to be there. But their presence does not impact the likelihood of medical interventions being necessary.


Now, the other side of the coin. Can my friend/mom/sister who is a doula be a doula for my birth? That is a more complicated question.

I can say with certainty that I cannot guarantee I would be an effective doula for my sister, future-sister-in-laws, and for my children. This is because a doula needs to be objective in order to be effective. I need to have a clear head in a client's labor room, and if I'm intimately concerned with the mother's and baby's physical well-being, I am emotionally compromised. This is not to say I don't care about my clients and their babies! But if I am related to the laboring pair, I'm too involved to be an outside eye. Will I be there if they want me? YES, in a heartbeat! But not as their primary doula. What about YOUR relative? Only you and she can judge that situation. I can only report my own opinion.

I have doula'd for friends, and love to be included in such an important event in their family's lives! What an honor! And if I know the woman and her partner especially well, it can facilitate and simplify our interactions during labor, helping me make their jobs easier and supporting their relationship more effectively. Knowing a client before they hire me also helps because we already know we get along well! But in that relationship, I am able to remove my "friend" hat and put on my "doula" hat when the time comes.

Joyce Dykema