dads & doulas: what’s the difference?

It always strikes me as a funny kind of question. I mean isn’t it obvious… A dad fathered the child*. The doula did not. The dad is the life-partner (we hope that’s the case but understand that life is full of mysterious twists and turns). The doula is not. The dad loves the mother of the child in a way the doula does not. Dad: your role is secure. I just want to say that. Doulas do not want to be dads.

But there still seems to be a crunchy feeling there, some kind of challenge to the male. As in ‘why does she need to doula when she’s got me’ kind of thinking. Men are amazing. But you only have one pair of hands. And perhaps you are incredible at back rubs and deep breathing and candlelit romantic hot tubs and prepare THE most amazing food. But can you do all of that at the same time? While also answering the phone and the door and making tea and explaining to the new midwife your birth plan and remembering to feed the cat.


I’ve had some great conversations this week. And feel inspired to set the record straight. I know I’m not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to do this. Women seem to quickly understand what doulas do, as if it’s been happening for as long as women have been having babies. It’s a collective memory, women get it. Men sometimes do, they have normally been introduced to the concept before though. Perhaps they know a doula or their friend had one for their birth and he heard first hand, from a buddy, what it is exactly that doulas do. Or perhaps he read some research. It doesn’t take much reading to realise that having a doula does great things to the statistics. Who doesn’t want these kind of odds on your side:

  • Shorter labour1
  • Lower odds of cesareans2
  • Improved odds of feeling positive about the experience afterwards3
  • Decrease in the use of Pitocin4
  • Less likely to request pain medication5
  • Increased likelihood of successfully establishing breastfeeding & breastfeeding at 6 weeks6




Ok so doulas are different to dads. They do magic things to statistics. Next comes the question about how doulas are different to midwives. In the name of clarity, and to please my sense of orderliness I made the info into a chart. What do you think?

Components of Care Dad Doula Midwife/Doctor
Continuous care during labour & birth Yes Yes ?
Knows mother personally Yes Yes ?
Medically responsible No No Yes
Performs clinical tasks No No Yes
Gives medical advice No No Yes
Makes decisions Yes No No
Experienced of emotions & physiology of labour ? Yes Yes
Previous experience with other labouring women ? Yes Yes
Able to remain calm ? Yes Yes
Knowledge of NHS procedures ? Yes Yes
Knowledge of comfort measures ? Yes Yes

Finally to make this vital information accessible to dads everywhere here is a PDF version saying who we are, what we do, how we do it, how I myself do it and yes a copy of the above orderly chart. Get yourself a copy quick before they run out and give it to a dad you know: Dads and doulas by Hazel Tree

shadow belly




1: Hodnett, ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5 Referenced online at:

2:  Potential Benefits of Increased Access to Doula Support During Childbirth/ Kozhimannil, K.B. 2014 Online at:

3:  Characteristics of a Positive Experience for Women Who Have Unmedicated Childbirth

Amanda M. Hardin, RN, BSN and Ellen B. Buckner, RN, DSN. 2004 Online at :

4: Continuous support for women during childbirth. Hodnett ED. 2012. Online at:

5: Hodnett, E. D. (2002). “Pain and women’s satisfaction with the experience of childbirth: a systematic review.” Am J Obstet Gynecol 186(5 Suppl Nature): S160-172. Online at:

6:  Brigstocke S. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol 24, no 2, 2014, pp 157-160. Quoted online at:


*note. For the sake of simplicity in this blog Dad’s are referred to as male, and Mum’s as female. I understand that these are cisgendered statements and that trans-men can, and have, given birth. It’s also fact that Dads are not always male, sometimes a baby will have two mums. And that male Dads do not always father the children they raise, for a variety of reasons from IVF with donor sperm to adoption and surrogacy.


** This blog was originally published in 2016. It has been updated for 2019.




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