A doula is a trained person who provides support during the prenatal, labor, birth, and postpartum periods for a new family. There are doulas who specialize in birth, known as birth doulas, and those who specialize in helping families after the birth, known as postpartum doulas. This article will focus on birth doulas.
What does a doula do?
A doula provides you with support to help you understand your choices, process information, and make decisions about labor and beyond. This may include helping you come up with a birth plan and put it in writing as a tool for communicating your preferences to those caring for your medical needs. A doula can also help you find resources as issues come up during your pregnancy.
During your pregnancy, you and your doula will discuss options to help you stay comfortable during labor. They will help you come up with a plan and select activities to help you reach your goals. These activities can include taking pain medication; using non-medication forms of pain relief such as back massage, relaxation techniques, or new positions; or a combination of both. Each birth is different, and you get to choose what you want.
Your doula will also teach you how to advocate for yourself and for what you and your family want. This may include offering strategies to make your voice heard when you’re in labor. It may mean helping you find providers who work well with you and your goals. They can also help prepare you to understand what your practitioner is saying when you’re in labor.
What are the benefits of using a doula?
Numerous studies have examined the impact of trained support during labor. One such study, a systematic review, showed that people who used a doula were more likely to have a shorter birth as well as a spontaneous vaginal birth without forceps or vacuum.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also published a committee opinion about the positive effect of doulas, reporting that during childbirth, women who had trained, continuous, one-on-one support had improved outcomes. For instance, women had a lower need for pain medication during labor, and were less likely to rate the experience of giving birth negatively afterward.
These benefits are great for the population at large, but most families are concerned with how a doula can help them specifically. As one woman put it, “I couldn’t have focused on labor and everything that needed to be done if my doula hadn’t been there for me and my partner.”
How do you hire a doula?
There are many doulas in most locations. To create your list of potential doulas, you can look to organizations like DONA International and its doula finder, a database of DONA-certified professionals. There are over 70 organizations that certify doulas, such as DoulaMatch, but DONA International is the oldest and largest.
Find a couple of doulas that you like on paper, and then start emailing or calling. Identify those who are available on your due date. Then you can set up interviews, which are usually free-of-charge meetings that last about an hour. The interview is a chance for you to ask questions about how that specific doula practices and how they might work with you.
Typical questions for your prospective doula might be:
What did your certification studies entail?
Do you have any experience with my practitioner or place of birth?
Do you have a back-up doula?
When will you join me in labor?
How long will you stay after the baby is born?
What is involved with prenatal meetings and how long do they last?
There are certainly many more questions to ask. Some you may think of before you go, and some may arise during your interview. And while the answers to your questions are important, you will also want to factor in how you mesh with the doula overall.
How much does a doula cost?
The fee for a doula varies based on the location, the doula’s experience, and other factors. Some insurance companies will help reimburse you for doula fees. You may also be able to use a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Healthcare Savings Account (HSA) to help pay for the services. Costs can run between $500 and $3,000 depending on all of these factors. Be sure to find out what is included in the doula’s package.
In the end, choosing a doula is a personal decision. While finding the right doula for you may take some time and energy, it’s a powerful step toward ensuring you are well supported during the birth of your baby.
See more helpful articles:
Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D., LCCE, CLC, AdvCD(DONA) is a childbirth educator, doula, founder of Childbirth.org, and the award-winning pregnancy and parenting author of “The Complete Illustrated Guide to Pregnancy” and more than 10 other books. Between her nine children, teaching childbirth classes, and attending births for more than two decades, she has built up an impressive and practical knowledge base. You can follow Robin on Twitter @RobinPregnancy, Instagram, and Facebook.