Many people, when they hear about doulas think "Isn't that what my husband/partner/sister/mom" is for? Most can't imagine what use an extra person could be at their birth. The truth is, a doula's role will not take away from the support of your chosen birth team. Her support will enhance your birthing experience and help your other partners to support you in the best way they can.
"Doula" is an ancient Greek word for "female servant". A doula is there for you throughout your entire birth. She is a calm, informative presence that can relieve your other support persons, offer massage and many other comfort techniques, help you to make decisions when medical interventions come up, help you remember the plan and vision you had for your birth... and so much more.
The value in having someone there for you who is not a doctor, nurse, or partner has been proven in a study by Hodnett, et al (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21328263). In the study, women who received continuous support from a doula were more likely to have spontaneous vaginal births and less likely to have epidurals, pain medication, negative feelings about childbirth, vacuum or forceps-assisted births, and Cesarean births. Their labors were also shorter by about 1 hour and their babies were less likely to have low Apgar scores at birth.
What does this mean? It means that if you have continuous labor support (that is, someone who never leaves your side), you and your baby are statistically more likely to have better outcomes! The researchers also looked to see if the type of support made a difference. They wanted to know—does it matter who you choose for your continuous support? Does it matter if it is a midwife, doula, or partner? They looked at this question for 6 outcomes: use of pain medication, use of Pitocin during labor, spontaneous vaginal birth, cesarean birth, admission to special care nursery after birth, and negative ratings of birth experience. For 4 of these 6 outcomes the best results occurred when woman had continuous labor support from a doula– someone who was NOT a staff member at the hospital and who was NOT part of the woman’s social network. When continuous labor support was provided by a doula, there was a 40% decrease in the use of Pitocin, a 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth, a 28% decrease in the risk of C-section, and 34% decrease in dissatisfaction with the birth experience. These outcomes were better than all the other types of continuous support that were studied.