Doula: Etymology and History


Doula: Etymology and History | Blissful Moments DoulaEtymology of the Word Doula

I have a confession to make.  I (Brooke, the blogger) am a complete dork.  While most people would be satisfied to know that a doula is a professional birth worker who can help you glide smoothly through the amazing life event of pregnancy and childbirth, I am not satisfied.  I want to know the etymology and history of the word doula.

Where did the term doula come from?

The original word “doulas” came from Greece.  While I was expecting some glamorous beginnings to the term doula, what I found relates to the humble and loyal nature of our work.  The Greek word δούλα (feminine noun) means a “woman who serves.”  I guess Gus Portokalos was right, maybe every word does have a Greek root.

Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek. – Gus Portokalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding

In the context of a woman supporting another woman in postpartum care, Dana Raphael first coined the term in her 1973 book The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding (and earlier in a 1969 article).  In essence, Dana utilized doula to describe the type of support that should be given to a woman after childbirth and the name stuck.  Since that time, a doula’s scope has expanded and a doula now provides support physically, emotionally, informationally, and as an advocate for women before they become pregnant, while they are pregnant, when they give birth, and after they give birth.1   A modern doula wants to serve pregnant mothers and new mothers to nurture them with comfort and peace while they walk their new journey as mothers.

When did people first begin using doulas?

While Dana Raphael first used the word doula in 1969 to describe the type of care women need from other women, the doula profession has grown slowly and steadily since 1970.  Many women called themselves doulas as they sought to provide support to other mothers and gained training and education through experience.  The first organization to begin to certify doulas started in 1992 and since that time many other organizations have been formed to provide support, training, and certification for doulas.

Does this mean that doulas did not exist prior to 1969?

Yes.  And no.  While the doula profession was not yet developed, women have come alongside of women in birth for centuries.  Midwives are now women who are trained medically and provide hands on medical support for other women.  However, many women would provide birth support for birthing mothers alongside the trained midwives.  Midwives needed other women to help provide for the mother’s non-medical needs during childbirth.

Early Childbirth by Gustave Joseph Witkowski | Blissful Moments Doula
Early Childbirth by Gustave Joseph Witkowski

While these women did not officially have a name, these women served as doulas.  They supported the birthing mothers during and after pregnancy.

What country had the first doula?

While Greece had women servants who were called doulas, the first modern doulas (birth workers) were in America.  Since that time, the doula profession has become a global movement of encouraging woman to woman natal support.


I hope that you have enjoyed learning a little bit about the origins of the word doula and how women began to serve women in childbirth once again.  From this, I also hope that you will embrace the traditions of the past and integrate the support of a doula or another strong woman you know in your childbirth experience.  We all benefit as we come together as women to support each other in the beautiful occasion of birth.  Get the support you need and want!

Doula Flag | Blissful Moments DoulaBrooke Shambley

Blissful Moments Doula Blogger


1. The Journal of Perinatal Education – Women’s Perceptions of Their Doula Support

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