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For much of the 20th century, an expectant father's place was considered to be in the waiting room with other family members during labor and delivery. However, as expectant parents have gained more control over the childbirth process, expectant fathers and partners have moved from the waiting room to the delivery room and have become an integral part of the process as labor support and coach. Many fathers make great labor coaches while others may be uncomfortable or unwilling to be present in the delivery room. In either situation, a doula can provide supplemental or primary physical and emotional support, as well as information about pregnancy and babies to mothers before, during, and following childbirth.

Doulas were originally the highest ranking female servant or slave in ancient Greek households. In such a position, the doula would assist the lady of the house during childbirth. Over the years, it evolved into a labor assistant.

Many expectant couples choose a doula as an alternative to both a traditional hospital delivery and a certified nurse midwife. Doulas do not perform any clinical tasks such as checking your and your baby's heart rate or performing vaginal exams, but they specialize in massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, and labor positioning to help labor progress as smoothly and quickly as possible. They also may act as your advocate and assist in communicating with hospital staff to obtain information and relay your wishes. They will join you at home or accompany you to a hospital or birth center.

A doula is not meant to replace the father/partner. The father or partner may be better able to provide continuous support but typically has little actual experience in dealing with the often stressful labor process. In addition, many fathers are emotionally overwhelmed by labor and delivery, rendering them ineffective as a coach and advocate. Studies have shown that fathers usually participate more actively during labor when a doula is present.

Studies have shown that mothers attended by doulas produce lower levels of stress hormones than those left alone in labor or attended by inexperienced father/coaches. If you are serious about not using drugs, a doula may be your best ally; and even if you think you might want to receive an epidural, a doula can help make the experience less stressful and more satisfying. Another great benefit of choosing to have a doula during labor and delivery is that a doula will be with you continuously throughout your labor and delivery, as opposed to the nurses who will probably come on and go off shift several times. A doula is also a welcomed relief for most nurses as they will probably have several patients at once and not be able to give you as much attention as you would like. Additionally, doulas can provide support as you begin breastfeeding and tips on newborn care.

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