What’s A Doula?: The Rise of Doulas In Black Women

Doulas are undeniably a growing presence in the pregnancy, birth and post-partum process for black women, but it’s more than a fad in motherhood.

Birth workers existed as far back as pre-colonization in African communities and were viewed as spiritual leaders. They were family counselors, post-partum doulas, nutritionists, community activists and more.

This African tradition of birth spiritual leaders traveled the seas with slavery and spread throughout the diasporas in a westernized form of Granny Midwives.

Midwives spread in American southern states like Alabama and Mississippi in the early 20th century to provide maternity care to poor women who lacked access to hospital care. They maintained a strong presence until the early to mid-1900s when health officials and doctors sought to pursue legislation to discredit them as health professionals.

But the need for intervention in the birthing and pregnancy process for many women was still an urgent need. In the beginning of the 21st century, 64 percent of African American women receive pre-natal care.

Discrimination, implicit bias and racial disparities in black births continue to remain a factor for black mothers.  An article from ProPublica and NPR in 2017 noted that black mothers are 243 percent more likely to die of pregnancy or childbirth-related causes than white women.

So it’s no surprise that more and more women are turning to these birthing coaches to assure a smooth delivery and healthy baby. If you’re interested in a doula but don’t know where to start, here’s some things to know.

What is a doula?
A doula is defined by the DONA international as a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.

There are three types of doulas:
·         Childbirth Doula: One who is experienced in childbirth and provides advice, information, emotional support and physical support before during, and immediately after childbirth.
·         Postpartum Doula: A doula post childbirth during the newborn stages. This role is present for the first days and weeks of a childbirth and includes infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother-baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care.
·         Full Spectrum Doula: This newer model of a doula is a justice rights advocate that works to raise issues and awareness of all areas of birth care and pregnancy issues, including abortion, adoption, stillbirth and miscarriage.
Are they considered health professionals?
Doulas are trained and certified like health professionals, but they are not medical professionals and do not give medical advice. Their purpose is to help you have a safe and healthy birthing experience. Doulas are certified through training programs and childbirth education organizations. Some notable organizations are DONA International, CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association) and International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA).

What is the difference between doulas and midwives?
Doulas work more as childbirth coaches to ease a mother’s birthing experiences on emotional, physical and informational levels. Doulas can be present during the labor and delivery process, but they do not provide medical advice, or medical prescriptions. Midwives are health care professionals medically trained to deliver babies. Their goal is to minimize technological interventions to encourage a natural pregnancy and birth process.
Both doulas and midwives require certification, however their training programs are vastly different. Midwives are certified through the Midwifery Certification Board and doulas can be licensed through various training programs.

How do you find a doula?
Just about every doula certification website offers a search section to find credible doulas in your area.  The National Black Doulas Association and Sista Midwife Productions offer a wide selection of black doulas.

How much experience does a doula need?
Doula training periods range, however according to the Doula Training Guide, certification can take several months to a year. Training/study time includes breastfeeding classes, childbirth classes, an online seminar, workshops, references from health care professionals, providing birth labor services to clients and more. Naturally the more live experience the doula has in the pregnancy and childbirth experience, the better equipped they are.

How much is a doula?
Doula pricing ranges widely by region, education and experience. Pricing can vary from an hourly fee to a flat fee. Standard services include a prenatal visit, labor and delivery, and post-childbirth follow up.

How do they interfere with the father’s role in childbirth?
They shouldn’t. Just as doulas encourage and empower mothers through the birthing experience, they will for new dads also.


  1. This is great information - thank you for writing this!

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