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Doula

Pronounced /ˈduːlə/Help with pronunciation

This word isn’t especially new — it’s recorded as long ago as the 1980s and the association Doulas of North America has been in existence since 1992 — but it is only slowly becoming known outside the US and as yet is rarely recorded in dictionaries. A doula is a supportive companion, herself a mother, who is trained to help a new mother during childbirth and afterwards. The doula is employed to give advice, practical assistance and emotional support, but doesn’t get involved with the medical aspects of the birth. After the birth, she may continue to advise and perhaps do some light chores around the house to help mum cope with the new baby, though the birth and post-birth types of assistance are often separated. The term comes from the Greek name for a female slave, a household servant, by implication one who would have helped the woman of the house during childbirth.

The professional doula doesn’t just walk into a house and take over — she does whatever is necessary so that the new mother will start to feel that she is taking control of things again.

Daily Telegraph, Jan. 2000

The best possibility would probably be a doula, who is trained to help new mothers in any way she can. This miracle worker will mind the twins for you, fix meals, do the laundry — whatever you want.

Washington Post, June 2000

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 Aug. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-dou1.htm
Last modified: 5 August 2000.