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What is a Doula and is it Important to Have One?

Doula providing emotional support to a woman in a birthing tub




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

So, you've heard the term ‘doula' thrown around in your local parenting groups or come across it while scrolling through Instagram. But what is a doula? What do doulas do? I surveyed the New Modern Mom community and about 1/4 of respondents used one for their birth. Those that did loved the support, those that didn't mentioned cost and not needing additional support as reasons. So if you're considering a doula, let's dive in.

What is a Birthing Doula and Do you Need One?

What is a Doula? A Guide to Understanding the Role

What Does a Doula Do?

A doula, In essence, is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to pregnant mothers before, during, and shortly after giving birth. They're there for you during labor, providing hands-on comfort measures like back rubs and breathing exercises during labor and contractions. They're like your personal cheerleader, keeping you focused and positive when the going gets tough. And yes, it can get tough.

It’s important to note that although doulas are professionally trained, they aren’t licensed medical professionals – they can’t provide diagnoses, second opinions, or medical advice. Instead, their focus is helping you get as much information as possible, then supporting and advocating for the choices you make using that information. They also provide uninterrupted emotional support to moms and their families during labor and delivery. Antepartum doulas assist with pregnancies that require special care and attention, such as high-risk pregnancies, bed rest, or unmanageable symptoms like severe morning sickness.

Many OB/GYNs and midwives are comfortable working with doulas in the delivery room because they realize the importance of the tasks they perform. Roles are clearly spelled out, with the doula offering moral support for expectant parents, and the gynecologist or certified nurse-midwife overseeing your medical care and the delivery of your baby.

Related: Doula vs Midwife

Are there Benefits to Having a Doula?

Having one by your side during childbirth can offer a multitude of benefits, including their assistance as lactation consultants. They can help reduce anxiety and fear, making the birthing process a more positive experience. They can provide advice and continuous support, helping you make informed decisions. And, studies have shown that having labor support from a birth doula can actually result in better birth outcomes, like reducing the likelihood of a c-section.

We were days away from signing the contract with our doula for my first birth when we went into lockdown for COVID and unfortunately were not able to have her at my birth. To this day, I wonder if my labor would have ended in a successful vaginal birth instead of an emergency c-section if she would have been there.

Husband providing physical support to a pregnant woman in a birthing tub

Photo by Rebekah Vos on Unsplash

Emotional and Physical Support During Pregnancy and Delivery

A birthing doula isn't just there for the actual birth, their support starts way before that, during pregnancy itself. They're there for every late-night “Is this normal?” text. Picture someone who's part sounding board, part walking encyclopedia of pregnancy and birth knowledge.  

Hiring a doula may be a good idea if you'd like someone in your corner who's working to provide you with the best experience possible during this major milestone in your life. Your doula isn't just there to offer a sympathetic ear or to answer your many, many questions. They're also there to provide hands-on emotional and physical support, including additional support in the delivery room. Anxious about labor? A good doula will be there with relaxation techniques, reassurances, and advice on labor positions. Back aching from carrying around your ever-growing baby bump? A good doula knows just the right massage techniques, such as pain relief techniques, to help. Feeling overwhelmed by all the decisions They've got your back, offering unbiased information, encouragement, and support so you can make the choices that are right for you.

Is A Doula Right For Me?

Doulas are especially beneficial if you're a first-time mom, or if you've had a previous traumatic birth experience, or experienced a pregnancy with complications or previous miscarriage. They're also useful if you and your partner don't take classes or do your own learning of the birth experience and how a support person can be helpful during the labor and pushing process.

It's not just about finding someone with the right credentials (though that's important too!). You'll want to consider their philosophy on birth, their approach to pain management, and their previous birth outcomes. Importantly, listen to your gut. This is someone you're inviting into a deeply personal and transformative experience. You need to feel comfortable with them, trust them, and have a mutual respect. So take your time, ask lots of questions, and don't rush the process. 

What Questions Should You Ask When Interviewing a Doula?

  • Are you available on and +/- 2 weeks of my due date?
  • Where are you located and how long is the travel time to arrive at my birthing hospital?
  • What is your training and certification?
  • How many births have you attended, and what types were they? (Vaginal, C-section, VBAC, twins, home births, etc.)
  • Can you describe your birth philosophy in a nutshell? (And does it align with yours?)
  • Could you share about a few birth experiences where you've made a significant difference? (These stories can offer valuable insights)
  • How would you handle a situation where my birth plan changes suddenly? (Flexibility is key, folks!)
  • How do you plan to work with my partner during the birth? What's your backup plan if you're unable to attend my birth? 
  • How do you structure your package and what are the costs?
  • How many prenatal visits are included in your package?
  • Are you available for postpartum support? Are these visits included in your package? (Postpartum is a journey in itself)
  • Have you attended births at the hospital where I plan to give birth? If yes, what did you like about that hospital? What did you dislike?
What is a Birthing Doula and Do you Need One?

Remember, your birth, your rules! So don't hesitate to ask anything that's on your mind. This is about finding someone who can support you in this incredibly intimate journey. It's all about feeling safe, supported, and empowered.

Doula providing physical support to a woman in labor

Photo by Rebekah Vos on Unsplash

Steps to Hiring a Doula

  • Step One: Do your homework. Start by understanding the roles and benefits of having a doula. Do some basic research online, read books, and talk to friends who've used one in the past. And remember, knowledge is power!
  • Step Two: Start your search. There are many local and online resources available to find doulas, including social media platforms (Instagram gave me some good leads!), motherhood groups, and doula agency websites. And don't forget, word-of-mouth referrals can be incredibly powerful. If you are local to the Bay Area, Natural Resources gave me the best options.
  • Step Three: Interview potential doulas. Asking the right questions is crucial. You want to ensure that their training, philosophy, and experience align with your needs and expectations. I recommend starting with a Zoom video interview, then scheduling an in person coffee chat to truly understand her vibe.
  • Step Four: Listen to your gut. Once you've done the interviews, it's time to trust your instincts. Who did you feel most comfortable with? Who understood and respected your birth plan? Remember, this is about finding someone who feels like the right fit for YOU. 
  • Step Five: Seal the deal. Once you've made your choice, it's time to discuss the contract, payment, and any other logistics.
What is a Birthing Doula and Do you Need One?

Costs involved in hiring a doula?

Financial Considerations

Prices can vary greatly depending on experience, services offered, and regional cost of living. They may charge by the hour, or they may offer a flat rate for their services, which typically include prenatal visits, being on-call for your birth, and postnatal visits. Some even offer sliding scale fees based on income. Whatever the case, it's crucial to understand what's included in the fee and if there are any additional costs you should anticipate.

The cost of a doula was the top listed reason the New Modern Mom community respondents listed as not using one.

Does Insurance Cover Doulas?

A common question on expecting moms' minds – does insurance cover health care services provided by doulas? If they do offer coverage, make sure you understand what it includes. Are there any prerequisites? Is the coverage partial or full? If your insurance company doesn't cover doula services, don't lose hope. There may still be other options, like using a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA). Luckily for us, Jason’s work offered an incredible benefit called Cleo, which gave us free access to virtual doula support. While a virtual consultation certainly does not provide the same hands-on support, since we couldn’t have a doula in person for our birth due to COVID, this was our best option. Check if this is a benefit offered by you or your partner’s job.

Close up of a mom's hand holding a baby's fingers

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

Is Having a Doula Worth It?

If you and your partner are looking for a calming presence, support physically and for decision making, to ensure you feel seen, heard, and understood, and have the financial means to afford one, then having a doula is a great choice to enhance your birth experience.

“But what about the spouse or partner?” you might ask. Of course, they play an integral role, but doulas? They're the professionals. They know the landscape of childbirth like the back of their hand and can navigate those turbulent waters with ease. And let's not forget the postnatal period. The nurturing, guidance, and support a doula brings in those first few weeks can help ease the transition for new parents, especially for first-time parents. Having a specially trained companion, such as a postpartum doula, who is also a certified lactation counselor, can make the your breastfeeding and postpartum experience during the immediate postpartum period a lot easier and more enjoyable with the addition of a new baby.

Speaking from experience, I do question whether having the comfort, expertise, and support of a doula during my birth with Caden would have resulted in a successful vaginal birth instead of an emergency c-section. 

Additional Resources: 

It’s always worth doing your homework when it comes to something as important as your birth plan. The following organizations can help you make an informed decision. 

  • DONA International – The world’s first, largest and leading doula-certifying organization. DONA is a fantastic resource for all things doula-related.
  • CAPPA – CAPPA is another great place to look for info and to find a doula near you.
  • DoulaMatch – This website is a bit like a dating site, for finding your perfect doula match.
  • International Doula Institute – Want to learn more about doula training? This site is a wealth of information.
  • National Black Doulas Association – This organization is dedicated to promoting the services of black doulas nationwide.
  • Birth Arts International – This site offers a directory for finding and information on becoming a doula.

Social media platforms can be useful. Just searching for the #doula tag can connect you to valuable insights, experiences, and even virtual services.

Word-of-mouth recommendations can be just as valuable. Taking the time to ask around in local motherhood groups or parenting forums may lead you to the perfect doula who fits your needs and expectations.

Cover Photo by Rebekah Vos on Unsplash


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