Doulas are “trained professionals who provide continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.”1 Unlike an obstetrician or a midwife, a doula is not a medical professional. They support you throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum to help you have a positive and healthy birth experience. They can also offer support to family members and partners. Throughout most of history, professionals like doulas have supported moms through pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Studies show that moms who have this type of support have safer and more positive birth experiences. There is also growing evidence that doulas can help address health disparities (social and economic disadvantages) in birth that can have negative health outcomes.
What does a doula do?
Doulas offer support in many ways. The most common way doulas offer support is during labor and birth. They don’t replace your medical provider or your partner. Instead, they join your care team to help you have a positive and safe birth, whether it is at a hospital, birthing center or at home.
- Doulas can offer various positions to help you cope with labor and offer physical comfort to help with the pain like massage, counter pressure or breathing techniques.
- Doulas offer emotional support to you, your family members, or partners through the birthing experience. This helps you feel calm and safe during labor. They reassure you through labor and offer different comfort techniques.
- It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the medical terms and information you may hear during labor and delivery. Doulas can provide birth education; help connect you to evidence-based information about birth and postpartum and help you make informed decisions about your birth experience.
- They can speak up on your behalf if you need something from the medical staff or are concerned about something happening during labor and delivery. A doula can also help communicate with medical staff about your needs or concerns.
- They can offer continuous support that nurses, midwives, or doctors who are caring for many patients can’t provide.
- They can offer support for any kind of birth, including medicated births and c-sections.
Doulas can also offer support beyond the delivery room. Some doulas offer services during pregnancy and post partum, which can include helping you find resources, creating a birth plan, recovering from birth, and help with breastfeeding. Others can offer support through specific situations like abortion, infertility, and miscarriage.
How to find a doula
Because doulas offer support in so many areas, it’s important to find one that works for your needs and budget.
First, check with your health insurance plan if you have one. They may offer coverage for doulas and resources to help you find the best doula for you and your family. You can also ask your midwife or doctor if they have doulas, they refer patients to. Your hospital or birthing center may also offer doula services, sometimes for no additional fee.
Other ways to find doulas include
- Asking people, you know
- Check with a childbirth educator (like P&I classes)
- Search for doulas in your community through DONA International or Doula Match
The services offered and cost can vary so it is important to interview a doula to make sure they can fit your needs. Asking questions about their experience, how they advocate for their patients, and about their views related to epidurals and pain medication can help you make a decision.
Doulas can be a great advocate to join your birthing team and can help you, your baby and your family have a positive and safe birthing experience.
Reviewer: Sheila LaFortune, CNM, MS, Midwife
- DONA International, What is a Doula?
- Planned Parenthood, What is a Doula?
- Bohren, M.A. et al., Continuous support for women during childbirth
- Mayo Clinic, What are the benefits of having a doula?
- Lamaze International, Tips for Finding a Doula