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The 9 essential qualities of an exceptional Doula

By June 11, 2023June 19th, 2023News

In ancient cultures women in labour were cared for and supported by their sisters, mothers, aunties, traditional birth attendants, herbalists…   Birth was seen as a natural and normal part of life, becoming a mother was a rite of passage the women learned from each other.  At my own birth, in the late 1950s in the UK, my mother was supported by her sisters, her mother and the local Community Midwife (aka ‘Call the Midwife’!).

Nowadays, birth has been largely removed from the home and from the loving hands of our sisters.  Many of us, as birth-keepers, have had to re-kindle our inner wisdom of birth and mothering, learning to trust in our intuition again, coupled with gaining new understanding of the complex medical world of childbirth.  Yet the essential qualities of a Doula or Birth Attendant remain the same.

As a doula of 30 years, and a trainer of doulas for over a decade, I am frequently asked “What makes an exceptional Doula?”

Here are my top 9 qualities for those working in the sacred field of birth or postpartum –

1. Being Present

– research shows that continuous support in labour and the ‘presence’ of a doula reduces the need for medical intervention and increases the mother’s satisfaction in the birth experience.  The doula’s ability to stay in the ‘present moment’ with the birthing mother is essential – one expansion (contraction) at a time… breathing… releasing… letting go…

2. Calm Grounding

– staying calm and grounded in yourself and feeling comfortable to allow the labour to unfold in a relaxed way.  Letting go of any expectations of ‘how long’ or ‘what kind of birth’ a mother will have and surrendering to the process of supporting birth as a doula.

3. Emotional Clarity

– a doula must leave their own emotions ‘at the door’ outside the birthing space.  If you feel emotional or overwhelmed by your feelings during a birth it is best to take some time out, perhaps call your mentor or a peer who can help you to regroup before coming back into the birth room.  NB: It is highly recommended for doulas to have undertaken self-exploration as part of their training and seek on-going support to debrief the births they support.

4. Encouraging the Birth Partner

– supporting the father or birth partner to step forward and be present with the birthing woman in this most intimate time of the couple’s relationship.  This may mean the doula leaving the room and creating the space for the couple to enjoy sensual time together – remembering the need for intimacy to allow the Love Hormone (Oxytocin) to flow and the labour  to progress naturally.

5. Intuition

– trusting your intuition (inner knowing or gut feelings) to offer the most appropriate support for each  birth you attend.  Every birth and each woman’s needs are very different – during some labours the doula may be very ‘hands on’ offering massage, physical support, making food… others may simply require her to ‘Be Present’ quietly supporting the sacred space of birth.  Tuning-in to what is most needed at any time during the labour is an essential skill for a doula.

6. Commitment

– to your clients, and yourself!  If you are currently a doula, or considering training as one, you are already feeling the commitment to changing the experience of birthing mothers for the better.  It’s vital you also have a strong commitment to yourself and to exploring your own journey of learning and personal growth.  Ensure you find on-going support from a mentor and invest in attending professional training and development courses as you grow your doula career.

7. Enthusiasm

– for learning, researching, reading and asking the right questions.  Even as a highly experienced doula you will often be presented with new ‘procedures’ or ‘policies’ suggested by care providers for your clients.  Your enthusiasm to explore and understand these will help you build a body of knowledge to offer support for informed choice for birthing families.

8. Trust

– in bucket loads!  In the deepest core of your being, you trust in birth.  This is regardless of previous experiences you may have had with clients, or even your own birth stories.  You have come to a place of inner knowing and certainty that every woman has the full potential to birth her baby in the perfect way for her own growth and transformation.

9. Love

– last but not least!  Your ability to stay in your own heart and lovingly encourage pregnant and birthing mothers to strengthen their heart-baby connection. There is a belief that fear and love cannot exist at the same time, so bringing more loving care to your work will help to dissipate fear.

These meaningful words from John Lennon apply perfectly to the essential qualities of a doula –

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.”


Anna Watts is a Sacred Birth Educator, Doula Trainer and Counsellor.  She offers regular Sacred Birth Doula training – face-to-face and online – and Sacred Beginnings Postnatal Doula training for both new and practising Doulas to explore birth as a journey of transformation and healing.