Shadowing a Doctor

August 5, 2016

If you imagine the scene of a mother delivering her baby, you probably imagine a hospital – and the first medical professional who comes to your mind is probably a midwife. That’s no surprise: there are over 30,000 of them in the UK!

However, there is another type of role for those interested in supporting birth, particularly if you want to focus on the emotional well being of the mother and her family: a doula. Ruth Willis is a doula based in the United Kingdom and we recently had the chance to ask her lots of questions about the role.

Can you define exactly what a doula is?

“A doula is someone experienced in birth who a mother hires to support her through the process of having her baby. We are not medically trained; we aren’t there to monitor the baby’s heart rate, we are there to guide a mother and her partner through the process of birth, before, during and after.

Nowadays midwives have many patients to deal with at one time and don’t have the opportunity for one-to-one care with each mother. Pregnant women will also often see a different midwife at each appointment, so doulas are there throughout the whole process to offer advice, reassurance and a hand to hold.

I know many fantastic midwives, but I also know some that have switched to being a doula because of the opportunity to give mums much more one-to-one care. It very much depends on what you want out of your career.”

How would you describe the role of a doula at the following times:


“During pregnancy, our focus is birth preparation. We discuss pain management with our client, we outline their birth wishes and we try to release the trauma of any old experiences (such as a difficult previous birth) so that they are fully ready.”


“When a woman goes into labour she will call her doula who will come as soon as she is asked for. In the labour room – be that in a hospital, birth centre or at home – the doula ‘holds’ the space so that all present in the room feel more clam and relaxed. This is also extremely helpful for fathers – I often say that asking a dad to be the sole source of support at a birth is like asking him to play for England having never kicked a football! We don’t try to replace fathers – we are there for them, too.”

After Birth

“We call the first hour after delivery the ‘Golden Hour’ – it’s crucial for bonding. Transitioning into the world can be scary for a baby so I always stay to help initiate breastfeeding, or comfort the mother if the baby has had to be taken for extra care for any reason. For example, if the baby is born and needs additional support, having a doula present means that Dad can go with the baby to the Special Care Unit, whilst I stay with the mother to comfort and reassure her.”

How do you become a doula?

“Because doulas aren’t medically trained there is no central regulatory body for becoming a doula. However, I would recommend that all doulas attend a doula preparation course, which are usually about £300. In fact, I would recommend training midwives to go on one of these courses as well – they are a fantastic insight into the birthing process.

Many student midwives contact me to ask what my job is about. As well as going on a preparation course, I always tell them to talk to women. Attend discussion groups, talk to female friends, join Facebook groups… listen to the conversations that women are having and the fears they have about birth. I became a doula five years ago after attending antenatal groups whilst living in Spain, and learning about birth (as well as having my own baby!) for the past ten years.”

Ever had any magical moments in your job?

“I’ve had so many magical moments. It really is an honour and a privilege to witness a child being born – it is the miracle of life! When a mother breaks through her fear, you’re there. When the contractions change and she’s ready to push, you’re there. When she finds that extra ounce of strength, you’re there to tell her that this strength is what she’ll use for the rest of her life as a mother.

Whether it’s your first baby or your third, you become a mother all over again, every time you give birth – and it’s a truly incredible moment.”

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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.