“Doula” is a big buzzword in the pregnancy world. Doula (“doo- lah”) is rooted in Greek, meaning a person who serves. The word has been used to describe people who support birth in a non-medical capacity.
So, what is a doula exactly? A doula provides emotional and physical comfort and support before, during, and after labor and childbirth. A doula can also provide some information and guidance, and can sometimes be a go-between between you and the hospital staff.
They provide informational, emotional, physical but non-medical support to birthing people and their partners, if applicable. Doulas can help you find pregnancy/postpartum-specific care providers such as acupuncturists, childbirth educators, CPR training, lactation consultants as well as help you navigate the hospital system and facilitate conversations with your care provider. And of course, they provide continuous hands-on support while you are in labor with hip squeezes, reminders to hydrate, position changes, understanding the labor process, supporting communication with your medical team, plus so much more. Doulas can be the person you call with the normal and not-so-normal questions. Doulas do not replace partners or family members at your birth. Rather, they can help them be more involved - to their comfort level - or give them a break to step out for a moment and eat or use the restroom. Doulas provide support to the partners as well since they are often nervous/excited/unsure about what’s coming next. Your doula should be in the supporting cast of your birth movie rather than the feature. In your memories, the doula fades into the background as you, your partner and baby shine in the foreground.
Just like when you interviewed care providers you want to find someone who fits well with you. Here are four key considerations when searching for your perfect doula:
- Personality match is most important. Do you like being around them? Did the time during your interview pass quickly or could you feel the seconds ticking away? Some people want a doula who they can laugh with easily. Others prefer someone who can hold their hand and gently guide them. In all likelihood, you may spend quite a bit of time with your doula, so you’ll probably want someone who you enjoy being around and who you can be raw and real with. Birth is an unfiltered life experience and feeling safe and supported is key.
- Qualifications and skills are another consideration when choosing a doula. It’s not required for a doula to be certified to practice but many are. DONA is the largest certifying body but there are others as well. For example, if you identify as LGBTQIA+, you may wish to have a doula who is understanding or even identifies as LGBTQIA+. For some, faith plays a large role in their lives, and they wish for a doula with knowledge and understanding of their faith or background. If you are choosing a particular childbirth method, like Hypnobirthing, you may wish for your doula to have training or experience in that. Some doulas are massage therapists, acupuncturists, herbalists, placenta encapsulators, yoga teachers, reiki masters, or have a variety of other skills that may be of interest to you. Many doulas do both birth and postpartum work so if you’re interested in hiring a postpartum doula you may wish to have the same doula for both. If you’d like to breastfeed or know that you may need additional support in newborn feeding, hiring a doula with a lactation background can be beneficial since you will have developed a relationship during pregnancy. I encourage you to take some time to think of your “unicorn” doula wish list and write it out. It will help you formulate the qualities and skills that you value.
- Budget is another consideration when choosing a doula. The fee for doula services varies depending on experience, skills, and location. In NYC the average range is $300-3000, with newer doulas on the lower side. A new doula doesn’t mean a lesser doula. They may not have hundreds of births under their belt but can still support expecting families. Many doulas offer sliding scale fees for those in need. There’s a doula for everyone, regardless of ability to pay.
- Availability is of course important as well. Having a doula who is in town during your due time is crucial! They will have backup support because life and births are unpredictable. Many doulas take on a maximum number of clients per month, so you may wish to ask potential doulas how many clients they take per month and what their backup plan is. Of course, no one can predict when babies will be born so even if you choose a doula who takes one birth per month, the client due the following month could overlap. That’s why it’s so important to feel confident in the backup as well. Beyond the calendar, availability for you to contact them and receive a response in a timely manner is not to be overlooked. This builds trust in the relationship for when you’re in labor.
So how do you begin your search? You can start online, speak with friends, and word of mouth are great starting points. You just might be surprised how many people you know have used doulas for their births! Many care providers, yoga studios, massage therapists, and perinatal professionals can provide recommendations as well.
Make sure you speak with your care provider first, before hiring anyone. They may have doulas that they work well with or may discourage you from hiring one.
You’re inviting someone into one of the most intimate moments of your life. You want someone that you feel at ease, confident, and safe with. After all, you’re building your all-star support team!