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Lau Siu-lun, a sociologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says the increasing tendency to hire doulas is the result of the way modern society has developed.

“In the old days, our world or our parents used wisdom passed from generation to generation to help the new mums and newborns get through the first month,” Lau says.

This traditional and folk wisdom is seldom passed down by parents nowadays. Since the new mothers do not live with their mother or mother-in-law anymore, they get fewer chances to learn how to take care of infants. As a result, they hire professional doulas.

This coincides with a tendency in modern society for people to emphasise their own happiness. Grandparents generally do not mind helping the new mums sometimes but they do not want their lives to be taken over by the tiring duties. They want to attend classes or go climbing. They want to have fun too.

Lau believes that professional doulas are a sign of the rising status of women in society. “Forty years ago, new mothers would not have maternity leave, and 100 years ago, new mothers would return to the field and work three days after giving birth to their children,” says Lau. “But we don’t expect women to be tough nowadays. We want to protect them.”

“The larger picture is that babies and new mothers should receive special care, so there is a feeling that there should be professional postnatal services,” Lau says.

Lau is not sure whether this reliance on professionalism is a wise development. “Nowadays people try to understand the world in a scientific way. They then try to repudiate much of the wisdom from traditional society,” he says.

“It [old wisdom] may not be that scientific, but after a long period of time of practice, [we] found it helpful.”

Lau wants to preserve the value of old wisdom and thinks people should strike a balance. “We have to ask whether our science really works that well, to the extent that we obliterate the old wisdom,” Lau says.