Ask the Expert: Will I need a doula in childbirth?
Q: "What does a doula do and why would I need one when a midwife will be at the birth of my baby?"
A: Doula Maddie McMahon, author of Why Doulas Matter (Pinter & Martin, £7.99), says: "Birth is enormous. Physically and emotionally, it is intense. One midwife and a partner are often just not enough to support you. Midwives go off shift, care for more than one woman at a time, and usually don't know you. A doula never leaves you and knows your deepest hopes and fears.
"Partners need a companion, too. Someone to share the burden of supporting you through labour, sometimes for days. At home and then in hospital; mopping brows, fetching food, holding, massaging – doulas give partners support and much-needed breaks.
"A doula will never judge you. She's a mother-figure, a sister, a quiet support to everyone in the room. Her loving care and attention to detail creates an atmosphere conducive to gentle birth.
"The evidence is clear. A female companion, who is neither part of your social circle nor a member of the hospital staff, has a beneficial effect: shorter labours, less pain relief needed, fewer emergency caesareans and greater parental satisfaction with the birth experience. These things are associated with healthy mothers and babies and less postnatal depression and trauma.
"Midwives are superwomen but it's unfair of our society to expect them to do it all."