Traditionally, a doula was a woman who assisted in childbirth and aftercare. Doula, a term coined in 1976 by medical anthropologist Dana Raphael, originally referred to an experienced mother who assisted new mothers, particularly with breastfeeding and newborn care. Today, doulas, who may or may not have given birth, provide nonclinical, nonmedical physical, emotional, and informational support and advocacy for women before, during, and after childbirth, at home and in hospital. This care work is often referred to as “mothering the mother.” Women have always participated in childbirth; however, when hospital birth, presided over by male physicians with the assistance of female nurses, became the standard practice, lay support during childbirth was not allowed or welcomed.

The work of doulas is growing internationally. Childbirth International, an ...

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