Doula (Greek, ="in service of") = Professional labor support person. A doula is a woman who helps the laboring mother during the hours of birth (and if she takes her role seriously, before and after birth as well). She doesn't necessarily have any medical training, but usually has birthed several children herself. In some countries it is possible to have a doula attend also hospital births, in this case she is the one who stays with the laboring woman during the whole lenghth of labor, while the rest of the medical staff appears only if needed. The doula helps the woman fulfill whatever wish she might have during birth, e.g. food, drinks, compressions, massage. She also gives emotional support: she helps the mother through the hardest phases of birth, encourages her, listens to her problems etc. A good doula is like a shadow: always there but not noticable, her own personality never intrudes the intimacy of the family: her presence is only the background, yet a strong one.
Since October 2000, I'm a certified doula, trained by the Alternatal Foundation for Natural and Undisturbed Birth.