What Is a Doula? (And Why You Should Have One)

Been hearing the term “doula” amongst all your pregnant friends, and curious as to what this “doula” is? Or, maybe you’re wondering how a doula can improve your birth or postpartum recovery?

You already have so many decisions to make regarding your birth, trying to make it the safest, most positive experience for you and your baby. And, now you have to add a doula into that mix. But, is hiring a doula truly worth it? Can they really make that big of an impact in your birth and postpartum experience?

In this post, we will talk about what a doula is, the difference between a doula and a midwife, and what a doula does and does NOT do. We will also cover the vast benefits of having a doula and give you some tips on how to choose the perfect doula for your birthing day.

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What is a Doula? 

A doula (typically a woman) is a childbirth professional who is trained to support you before, during, and shortly after your birth. A doula is there to provide you with continuous emotional, physical, and educational support throughout labor and delivery.

Essentially, your doula is a hired support partner for birth. She will do everything she can to help provide you with an easier, safe, and more positive childbirth experience.

Many moms planning natural childbirths often hire doulas, but a doula can be beneficial even if you’re planning to use pain medication or having a cesarean. A doula can help you breathe, relax, and focus, and help you cope with any anxieties or fears you may be having.

The term doula typically refers to birth doulas, but there are also antepartum doulas and postpartum doulas. Antepartum doulas provide support to any moms that may need additional support throughout their pregnancy, such as single moms, teen moms, and moms who are high-risk or on bedrest. Postpartum doulas provide support for moms (and their families) who have just recently given birth (source).

What is the Difference Between a Doula and a Midwife? 

While a doula can play a huge role in your birthing experience, a doula does not equal a midwife.

Most midwives have an educational background in labor and delivery and are certified nurses trained to provide you with medical care. A doula, on the other hand, is quite knowledgable on pregnancy and childbirth, but does not typically have any formal obstetric training and can not provide you with any type of medical care. They can not do vaginal exams, can not monitor your baby’s heart rate, and can not catch your baby.

If you have a hospital midwife, they typically won’t be able to be at your bedside the entire time throughout your labor. They will have other moms in labor and may even have prenatal appointments. A doula, however, can be there to provide you with emotional and physical support for your entire labor if you wish. Some do call their backups in after 12-24 hours, but that should be discussed when you interview your doula.

What Does a Doula Do? 

The relationship with your doula will typically start at least a few months before your due date. During that time, you may meet with her once or twice to discuss your birth plan, pain management options, and how you wish to utilize her services during labor. You can also address any fears, questions, or concerns you may have regarding childbirth.

Most doulas also make themselves available by phone in case any other questions or concerns arise throughout your pregnancy. Some doulas even have special training in HypnoBabies or HypnoBirthing and can help you get started with hypnosis tools used to prepare for your baby’s birth.

As you get closer and closer to your due date, your doula can help you decipher true labor signs and when it’s time to call the midwife/OB. When your birthing day is finally here, your doula will be there to:

  • Provide encouraging words: Your doula is your cheerleader! She is there to provide you with encouraging words the whole way through. She’ll let you know how brave you are and what a great job you’re doing and send you a boost of confidence when you might start feeling defeated.
  • Help with natural pain management: A doula can physically help you change positions, walk the halls, and do some squats. Doulas can also help you utilize proper breathing techniques and rebozo exercises to help relieve your pain naturally. They will also make suggestions to your partner on how they can help you manage your pain.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety: Your doula can use counter pressure and massage to help alleviate tension and help you relax. She can answer your questions and address any fears you may have when you’re giving birth.
  • Help you make informed decisions: Your doula is your advocate during birth, and is there to help you fulfill your specific desires. She will help to make sure you have a safe and positive birth, and should any complications arise, your doula can help you obtain educational information to make sure you’re aware of your options and the risks and benefits of each, so you can make informed decisions regarding your birth.
  • Aid with breastfeeding: After delivery, many doulas will stick around and assist with initial breastfeeding. They will encourage bonding between mom and baby, and give you tips for getting a proper latch.

Some doulas may even provide other services, such as (source):

  • Birth photography 
  • Placenta encapsulation 
  • Birth pool rental (for home births) 
  • Journal/notes on your birthing day 

What a Doula Does NOT Do 

While a doula can provide you with so many helpful services to assist you in achieving a safer, more empowering birth, there’s also several things that your doula can NOT do (source).

A doula:

  • Does NOT make your decisions for you
  • Does NOT pressure you into certain choices
  • Does NOT provide any kind of medical care or give medical advice
  • Does NOT replace your partner’s role in the birth
  • Does NOT catch the baby

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What are the Benefits of Having a Birth Doula?

Doulas work hard to make sure you have a safe and comfortable birth. Their continuous support can provide so many benefits on your birthing day (source):

  • Less likely to have an epidural: You’re 60% less likely to request an epidural with a birth doula by your side. You’re also less likely to receive any kind of pain medication throughout labor when you have a doula.
  • Shortens labor time: Having a doula has been shown to reduce the length of labor by 25%. This is probably due to the fact that your doula is constantly there for you, encouraging you to move and helping you change positions. They also do quite a bit to help you relax, allowing your body to open up and promoting things to progress.
  • Lower rates of c-section: Research has shown women that labor with a doula are 50% less likely to have a cesarean section. That’s huge!
  • Break for dad: Labor can be loooong. By hiring a doula, you can make sure that you’ll always be able to have someone by your side. Your partner will be able to step away for some food, a nap, or even just going to the bathroom without you having to be left alone.
  • More positive childbirth experience: Many women, including myself, have reported more positive birth experiences when they’ve had a doula by their side. Your doula is there for you to help you advocate for your birth plans. And if any complications occur, she’ll be there to help you understand what’s going on and help you make an informed decision.

What are the Benefits of a Postpartum Doula?

Some birth doulas are also trained in postpartum services and often offer packages that include a number of home visits after your baby is born. Even if they don’t, you can always hire a separate postpartum doula.

I feel like this is often an overlooked source of support, and should definitely be utilized much more than it is. After all, postpartum really is the time where we need support more than ever.

A postpartum doula can provide support for you, your partner, and even your other kids. She can help you by:

  • Providing resources:  Doulas are trained to be able to provide you with valuable information and resources for new moms. Should you need it, your doula should be able to help you find a lactation consultant, local mom support group, or postpartum therapist.
  • Answer first-time mom questions: Your doula should also be able to help answer many of your typical first-time mom questions, and help you decipher what’s normal and what’s not.
  • Meal prep: A postpartum doula can make meal time so much easier for you by cutting up some onions, defrosting the chicken, throwing a freezer meal in the crockpot, or whatever it is you may need for your recipe.
  • Childcare when you’re home:  Your doula can help entertain your older kiddos while you’re caring for your newborn, allowing you more time to bond with the baby and establish a good breastfeeding relationship. This also allows you more time to take care of yourself, improving your recovery time.
  • Light cleaning: Your postpartum doula can help reduce your new mom overwhelm by tidying things up. You could ask your doula to pick up some toys, toss in a load of laundry, load up the dishwasher, or sweep the entry way.
  • Assist with baby care: A postpartum doula could also assist you with giving your baby a bath, feeding your baby, or taking your baby’s temperature. Anything that you’re anxious about doing and want to make sure you’re doing it the right way. She could even just stock the diaper caddy for you.
  • Provide a listening ear:  Even just the presence of a supportive person in your home can go a long way emotionally and mentally. Your doula will be there to listen to your concerns, fears, and help you process your birth. Or maybe, you’d just like another adult to have a conversation with when you’re at home by yourself. 

Will My Husband Feel Left out if We Hire a Doula? 

On the contrary! A doula should never replace your partner’s role during childbirth. In fact, your husband is actually more likely to be involved in the birth process with a doula there, as doulas actively promote participation from family members.

Your partner’s presence alone can go a long way in helping you feel comfortable and supported throughout labor, but with a doula there to offer reassurance, your partner can make an even bigger impact on your birthing day.

How Can I Find a Doula Near Me? 

Wondering where you can even find a birth or postpartum doula?

You can always ask your midwife or OB for information on local doula agencies, or you could do a quick search in the certified doula directory on the DONA International website.

But, my most favorable way to find a doula is to ask in local mom groups. See which doulas other moms are recommending and what their experiences were like. It also helps to make sure their perspective on childbirth is similar to yours. You could even just ask your friends if they had a doula that they would recommend.

Tips for Choosing a Doula 

It might be overwhelming choosing a doula if there are quite a few options in your area, but the most important thing is to select a person whom you feel the most comfortable with.

Read some testimonials and interview at least a few different doulas before landing on your final decision.  Here are a few interview questions to help you and your partner find the right match:

Interview Questions for Your Potential Doula

  1. What made you decide to be a doula? 
  2. How many births have you attended? Do you have any testimonials or references we could see? 
  3. What services do you provide your clients? 
  4. How can you help support me during labor?
  5. How long after delivery will you stay with me? 
  6. What are your views on childbirth? 
  7. What are your fees? 
  8. Are you available around my estimated due date? 
  9. What happens if you can’t make it to my birth? Do you have a backup doula, and will I be able to meet her before our birth? 

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My Birth Without a Doula vs. My Birth with a Doula

With my first birth, I did NOT have a doula, and I feel like that was a huge mistake. I had to be induced for gestational hypertension, but my birth was fast and intense. And, even though I didn’t have an epidural, it still wasn’t the most positive experience. I had gotten transferred to the OB group for being high-risk, my nurse was very hands-off, and of course, my hubby really didn’t have a clue how to help me. We both had never done this before after all.

I really just remember being scared, complaining a lot, and even trying to escape and go home. I was not calm at all. I was doing all the wrong things, like hyperventilating and screeching. Thank goodness that birth was only 3 hours long!

I was also upset that some things I had written on my birth plan were just plain ignored. I had written that no one was to ask me if I wanted pain medication (I was to ask for it should I change my mind) and that baby should have delayed cord clamping. The OB asked me pretty early on if I wanted pain meds and baby’s cord clamping was barely delayed.

With my second baby, I was able to stay with the midwives (a different group), but unfortunately had to be induced again for high blood pressure. But, even though I wasn’t able to let my body go into labor on its own, my second birth ended up being SO empowering. I still reminisce about it all the time to my husband.

Seriously though, my doula was AMAZING! I felt so much more calm, focused, and confident with her there. She knew all the right things to say to keep me brave.

She walked the halls and did some lunges with me, she managed my music playlist beautifully, and she made sure that my hubby got fed (that guy can get hangry! Lol). She helped me find comfortable birthing positions, made sure I was taking deep, consistent breathes, and had my husband apply counter pressure for natural pain relief when things started to get really intense.

She also helped me weigh my options along the way, made sure I had a soothing birthing environment, and just made me laugh. I was also extremley pleased that my birth plan was followed this time around and my baby’s cord wasn’t clamped until it had stopped pulsating and was completely white.

Of course, a number of factors may have influenced the difference between my births, but I truly believe having a doula made a huge impact and really helped make my birth that much more empowering.

Keep Calm and Hire a Doula 

A doula is essentially your birth support partner. Your doula will be there to provide you with continuous support, both emotionally and physically, throughout your labor and delivery.

She can help alleviate your fears, manage your pain naturally, and allow you to relax. Heck, your partner can even get a break. With a hired doula, you’re less likely to have a c-section and epidural, and more likely to have a shorter labor and overall more positive birth experience. There’s even postpartum doulas, which can make life much easier for you during those initial weeks after baby is born.

Ask around to find a local doula that can support you. Having a doula can do so much to empower your birth and improve your postpartum journey.

So, keep calm and hire a doula. You got this mama!

What About You? 

Did you have a doula with any of your pregnancies? Do you feel having one improved your pregnancy, birth, or postpartum journey? Let us know your experiences in the comments below and be sure to share this post with other expecting moms.

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