Do I Really Need a Doula if My Partner is Supportive?

The Differences Between a Doula and a Birth Partner

Doulas are becoming more widely recognized but there are often many questions about the doula’s role on a birth team. One question that comes up frequently is: How is a doula any different than my birth partner (dad, partner, sister, mom, best friend, etc.)? Many roles of the doula and birth partner can and will overlap but we will look into just a few of the ways a doula can benefit you in labor in addition to your primary support person.

Knowledge of Birth

A doula has an extensive knowledge base on the ins and outs of labor. She knows the physiological and emotional aspects of labor, what to expect during the stages of labor and how to support the mother and birth partner through all of this. Doulas have studied birth, interventions, and comfort measures to support laboring moms. They are familiar with hospital jargon and environments so they can help you navigate the unknowns. Birth partners may also have some knowledge from attending birth education classes and doing some reading on their own, but they’re not an objective supporter because they love you so much!

Experience in Childbirth

Doulas are experienced with birth. They are familiar with hospitals and the procedures that go on during labor. They can help reassure moms and birth partners that certain events in labor are normal and expected. If circumstances change, they can help families get the information they need in order to make informed decisions. Often times the birth partner will panic or not know how to respond or help the birthing mother. The doula can pull from her previous experience and suggest or encourage the birth partner to assist in many ways. How the birth partner will experience the birth is also an unknown. If the partner becomes unable to assist the mother and needs to step away, the doula can seamlessly step in and allow the partner to re-group without the mother losing the support she needs.

In suggesting the support of a doula, our intent is not to diminish the father’s role but to enhance it, to free him up to stand by the mother. With the doula present, the father is never left as the sole, isolated, responsible person caring for the laboring mother. This vital ingredient – the support of an experienced woman – has been lost in modern obstetrical care.” (1)

Emotional Support for a Laboring Woman

There are many components that contribute to the mother’s overall emotional wellbeing. Many of these elements of care can be provided by both the birth partner and the doula. However, the birth partner also has a greater emotional investment in the mother and baby and may need emotional support themselves at times during the labor. In the table below are several of the components that contribute to the emotional wellbeing of the mother and who provides that care (2).

Components of emotional care Birth Partner Doula
Knowledge/understanding of emotions and physiology of labor ? +
Experience with other laboring women +
Ability to remain calm/objective +
Perspective on problems/options +
Knowledge of comfort measures ? +
Knowledge of MD, midwife, hospital policies _ +
Continuous uninterrupted support + +
Love for the mother and baby +
Advocacy of the mother’s wishes/goals + +

As you can see, the doula is well equipped to serve the mother and her emotional wellbeing.


The doula creates a space where the mom and birth partner are given the opportunity to ask questions and make informed choices. DONA International states this best in their Standards of Practice:

“The doula advocates for the client’s wishes as expressed in her birth plan, in prenatal conversations, and intrapartum discussion, by encouraging his/her client to ask questions of her care provider and to express her preferences and concerns. The doula helps the mother incorporate changes in plans if and when the need arises, and enhances the communication between the client and care provider. Clients and doulas must recognize that the advocacy role does not include the doula speaking instead of the client or making decisions for the client. The advocacy role is best described as support, information, and mediation or negotiation” (3).

Adding a doula to your birth team can improve your birth experience. How a woman gives birth and is supported and cared for in that birth process matters. It matters to her physical and emotional health, the health of the baby and can affect her self confidence and self esteem as a mother. Along with her knowledge and experience, the doula has the unique role of being able to provide individualized uninterrupted attention to mom. The emotional support and advocacy provided by a doula can be game changers in the birth process. She is there to help the mother have the best birth experience possible, no matter her labor and birth outcome.  

Kim Mason @birthfit_fortdodge



  1. Klaus, M. H., Kennell, J. H., Klaus, P. H. (2012) The Doula Book: How a Trained Labor Companion Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier, and Healthier Birth. Da Capo Press
  2. Simkin, Penny. “Labor Support by Doulas, Midwives, Nurses, Physicians and Loved Ones” DONA International Birth Doula Manual. 2017
  3. DONA International “Standards of Practice” DONA International Birth Doula Manual. 2017
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