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BACKGROUND: Support from a doula is known to have physical and emotional benefits for mothers, but there is little evidence about the experiences of volunteer doulas. This research aimed to understand the motivation and experiences of volunteer doulas who have been trained to support women during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. METHODS: A postal questionnaire survey was sent to volunteer doulas at five volunteer doula projects working in low-income areas in England. Quantitative and qualitative data were analysed in parallel using summary statistics and content analysis respectively. RESULTS: Eighty-nine volunteer doulas (response rate 34.5 %) from diverse backgrounds responded to the survey. Major motivators for volunteering included a desire to help others and, to a lesser extent, factors related to future employment. Most reported that the training was effective preparation for their role. They continued volunteering because they derived satisfaction from the doula role, and valued its social aspects. Their confidence, skills, employability and social connectedness had all increased, but many found the ending of the doula-mother relationship challenging. For a minority, negative aspects of their experience included time waiting to be allocated women to support and dissatisfaction with the way the doula service was run. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: Most respondents found the experience rewarding. To maintain doulas' motivation as volunteers, services should: ensure doulas can start supporting women as soon as possible after completing the training; consider the merits of more flexible endings to the support relationship; offer opportunities for ongoing mutual support with other doulas, and ensure active support from service staff for volunteers.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Pregnancy Childbirth

Publication Date





Doulas’ experiences, Maternity, Peer support, Social disadvantage, Trained volunteer doulas