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What is the meaning of a “Doula”?

“Doula” is a Greek word meaning, literally “handmaiden” and is a concept that is becoming widely accepted in South Africa. The purpose of a Doula is to assist women during their birthing experience, and they are trained to provide emotional and physical support for labouring mothers. First time mothers who were supported by a Doula often report that they will repeat the experience second time around.

Some mothers find that such companionship improves the birthing experience profoundly. First time mothers accompanied by a Doula report better self-esteem and more successful breastfeeding and less post-natal depression than those receiving routine hospital care.

For some mothers clinical settings are stressful. Women can be vulnerable to environmental influences, especially when they are at this emotive time in their lives. Institutional routines and lack of privacy undermine feelings of competence and confidence which can affect the ability to breastfeed, with all its advantages of good nutrition and emotional bonding. The inability to breastfeed increases the risk of depression. A Doula helps the mother to relax.

In addition, Doula’s are incredibly helpful after birth. Some specialize in post-partum weeks, providing a comforting mix of motherly advice, breast-feeding assistance and help with household chores.


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