If you’re pregnant, you’re probably researching pregnancy and birth, and everything related to having a baby.
You will come across the word doula.
Birth doulas are becoming more popular. Maybe you’ve heard of friends or celebrities using a birth doula or postpartum doulas.
So what is a doula and do you need one? Here are 11 facts you might not know about doulas.
#1: What is a doula?
Doula (DOO-la) means woman servant or caregiver.
Traditionally a doula is a woman who provides non medical support and care to pregnant women and their families during pregnancy, birth and after birth.
#2: What is a doula and do I need one?
Some doulas only provide support for pregnancy and birth (birth doulas or labor companions).
Postnatal or postpartum doulas help new mothers and families after birth.
Most doulas will provide both birth and postnatal support.
Choosing to have a doula for your pregnancy and birth journey is a personal decision. However research from the Cochrane database shows a doula, or trained birth companion, has huge benefits for a positive birthing experience and postnatal recovery.
You’re less likely to have unnecessary interventions or a c-section if you have a doula.
#3: What exactly does a birth doula do?
A birth doula offers educational and emotional support to a mother and birthing family during pregnancy. Birth doulas also provide support continuously through labor and birth.
Doulas differ in the type of support they offer. Some doulas prefer home birth, others will attend you at your labor and delivery ward.
The services birth doulas offer depend on their training and skills, but include:
- Birth education
- Creating a birth plan
- Discussing and healing from previous births
- Continuous labor support
- Partner support
- What to do if you go past your due date
- Massage and other comfort measures, such as pressure points
- Suggesting positions to help ease pain
- Discussing options for pain relief
- Emotional support for the pregnancy and birth
- Assisting with your birth environment (lighting candles, playing music in the delivery room)
- Assisting you with negotiation of your birth choices
- Photography and/or video of the labor, birth, and golden hour
- Breastfeeding help when the baby is born.
Mother of two, Jamie Lee, gives her account of hiring a labor doula:
“She gave me resources and questions to help me better prepare for doctor visits. She helped me build confidence in my birthing decisions.
“During labor, I leaned on my husband more but she was a quiet companion that reassured my husband and gave him breaks when needed.
“She gave foot massages and helped me feel safe.”
#4: What is a postpartum doula?
Birth doulas take care of the mother during birth. Postpartum or postnatal doulas help care for new mothers and families after the new baby is born.
Postnatal doulas offer emotional and physical support, such as:
- Breastfeeding help or referral to a lactation consultant
- Making/freezing meals
- Holding baby
- Feeding baby
- Taking care of other children
- Emotional support
- Comfort measures such as massage
- Baby massage techniques
- Bonding with baby support
- Running errands.
Figure out what kind of care you’re looking for and find postpartum doulas who fit your needs.
While birth doulas will charge a flat fee, postpartum doulas often work on an hourly basis.
#5: Doula origin
Hospital birth is a relatively modern concept.
This research explains before the 1900s, women routinely gave birth at home. They would be supported emotionally and physically by a female family member or friends.
When birth moved into the delivery rooms in hospital, these female birth companions disappeared.
In the 1960s natural birth began to return and the term doula was coined to describe this role.
Mothers can now hire a doula who fits their needs.
Doulas bring together the traditional practice of female birth support and modern birthing practices.
#6: What’s the difference between a doula and a midwife?
Birth doulas can help with emotional and physical support to the mother and partner during labor and birth.
Birth doulas aren’t medically trained and don’t offer medical assistance.
In the United States, doulas can become certified through one of many trainings offered.
DONA International is the main one. At DONA International you can also search for birth doulas in your area.
This isn’t medical training, birth doulas are trained in professional birth support.
Training and certification programs differ in different countries. The best way to find out what training doulas have is to ask.
#7: Which doula should I hire?
Since doulas don’t offer medical support, anyone can be your doula or birth support person.
A family member like your mother and sister, or a friend, could be your birth doulas and provide labor support.
The best way to decide which doula to hire is to figure out what you want from them and go from there.
- Are you a single mother or is your partner nervous of childbirth? Look for doulas who are good with emotional well-being support.
- Do you want to avoid an epidural? Find a doula who can help with massage and pressure points.
- Are you nervous about taking care of a new baby? Consider a postpartum doula.
Figure out your needs and how a doula can help. Meet with a few different doulas, and choose the one who fits your birthing needs.
#8: Where do doulas work?
Birth doulas work wherever you choose to have your baby. This could be:
- A hospital, in the labor and delivery ward
- A birthing center
- Your home.
Doula support is continuous support in your chosen birth environment.
#9: Do I need a doula?
Part of the birth doula’s job is advocacy, or assisting with negotiation of the mother’s birth choices.
If your chosen hospital has a reputation for c-sections, your doula can assist in prevention of interventions so you can avoid the surgery.
However, it isn’t your doula’s job to make decisions on your behalf.
The doula’s job is to provide support and evidence based information so you can make informed decisions about your birth experience.
It’s important before you hire a doula to know what they offer, before labor and birth so they know how to assist you. She should understand your wishes before labor starts and support you to make choices that you’re happy with.
#10: How much does a doula cost?
Birth doulas charge different amounts, depending on many factors.
Some of these are:
- How much training they’ve had
- How much experience they’ve had
- What skills they offer
- How much their business costs to run.
Birth doulas who are training or inexperienced can be free. Experienced and skilled doulas can charge up to $2,000. Most doulas offer a payment plan to help you pay for their support.
It’s important to know what kind of support you need before you hire a doula. More experienced birth doulas will charge more but will be more knowledgeable and cool-headed in tense situations.
#11: Are doulas really necessary?
Birth doulas provide support that is a valuable addition to a birth experience.
Postpartum doulas are valuable if you anticipate a difficult postpartum period or are less likely to have a strong support system when the baby has arrived.
If possible, make sure your partner is present when you meet with doulas so you’re both comfortable during labor, birth or the postpartum period.
You can also download a copy of our doula interview sheet if you aren’t sure what to ask during an interview.