When Support Becomes a Burden – The Potential for Birth Trauma in Doulas

While doulas are often seen as pillars of strength and support during childbirth, providing emotional, physical, and informational assistance to birthing individuals, the intense and sometimes traumatic nature of our work can take a toll on us as well. The experiences we witness and the emotional energy we expend can lead to our own form of birth trauma. This blog explores how birth support can become a traumatic experience for doulas and what can be done to address and prevent this.

The Emotional Toll of Supporting Birth

As Doulas we are deeply invested in the well-being of the birthing person and their family. We often develop close relationships with our clients, which can make witnessing distressing or traumatic birth experiences particularly challenging. The following are some ways in which we as doulas may be affected:

  • Empathic Distress: Doulas often empathise deeply with the birthing person. When complications arise or the birth does not go as planned, doulas can experience significant emotional distress.
  • Vicarious Trauma: Constant exposure to traumatic birth experiences can lead to vicarious trauma, where doulas internalise the trauma they witness and experience symptoms similar to those who directly endured the trauma.
  • Burnout: The demanding nature of doula work, including long hours, irregular schedules, and the high emotional stakes, can lead to burnout, characterised by emotional exhaustion, detachment, and a sense of ineffectiveness.
  • Moral Distress: Doulas may experience moral distress when they are unable to advocate effectively for their client's wishes due to medical decisions or institutional constraints, leading to feelings of helplessness and frustration.

Signs and Symptoms of Trauma in Doulas

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in doulas is crucial for early intervention and support. Common indicators include:

  • Emotional Symptoms: Anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings, and feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
  • Cognitive Symptoms: Intrusive thoughts, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and decision-making challenges.
  • Physical Symptoms: Fatigue, sleep disturbances, headaches, and other stress-related physical ailments.
  • Behavioural Symptoms: Withdrawal from social interactions, reduced motivation, and changes in eating or sleeping habits.


Preventing and Addressing Doula Trauma 

To prevent and address trauma, doulas and those who support them can take several proactive steps:

  • Training and Education: Comprehensive training programs that prepare doulas for the emotional and psychological aspects of their work can help build resilience and coping strategies.
  • Support Networks: Access to peer support groups, mentoring and professional counselling can provide you with a safe space to share your experiences and seek guidance.
  • Self-Care Practices: Regular physical activity, healthy eating, adequate rest, and mindfulness practices, can help mitigate stress.
  • Boundaries and Limits: Setting clear boundaries regarding work hours, the number of clients, and personal time can prevent burnout and ensure you maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • Debriefing Sessions: Regular debriefing sessions with colleagues can help you process your experiences and receive emotional support. 

The Role of the Doula Community 

The doula community play a vital role in supporting doulas' mental health and well-being:

  • Creating a Supportive Environment: Fostering a culture of openness and support where doulas feel comfortable discussing their challenges without fear of judgement.
  • Providing Resources: Offering resources such as access to mental health professionals, workshops on self-care, and continuing education on trauma-informed care.
  • Encouraging Professional Development: Supporting doulas in attending conferences, training, and seminars to stay updated on best practices and new coping strategies.


While doulas provide invaluable support to birthing individuals, it is crucial to acknowledge and address the potential for birth trauma in your own experiences. By recognizing the signs of trauma, prioritising self-care, and creating supportive networks, doulas can continue to offer compassionate care without compromising their own well-being. Just as you support your clients through one of life's most significant moments, doulas too deserve care, compassion, and support to navigate the emotional complexities of their profession. 

At Doula Near Me, we are here every step of your journey, whether you are a new doula or established. Providing a safe place, community, professional development and resources.  

About this blog

More blogs