What is a doula and how can one help during childbirth and beyond?

Jacqueline Lavana
May 26, 2019
Planning for a baby: What is a doula?

You've taken the childbirth classes. You've heard the labor stories both good and bad from numerous friends, co-workers and even random strangers. You feel both prepared and completely unprepared all at once. At some point in your pregnancy, someone will ask you about your birth plan and may even mention a doula, which can raise some questions: What are doulas, how can they help me and how much do their services cost?

If you're looking for additional support during labor and delivery, or even postpartum, a doula may be the answer you're seeking.

What is a doula?

A doula is a professional trained to help a mother give birth and who may also provide support after the baby is born. A doula, above all, is there to support and empower your birthing experience. For a first-time mom, a doula can be a calming resource who can decipher medical terminology and help you stay in the moment.

"What a first-time mom knows about birth was learned vicariously, through books, TV, movies or other media or from conversations with family, friends and co-workers," explains Sunday Tortelli, the president of DONA International. "None of these sources may adequately serve to build her confidence in the birth process or herself."

A doula can help you to let go of preconceived notions of birth and define your own experience. Are you a veteran mom? A doula is for you, too. Just as every woman is unique, every pregnancy is, as well.

"The doula can help her come to terms with her feelings about it and assist her to consider ways in which she can aim for greater satisfaction at her next birth experience," Tortelli says.

How much does a doula typically cost?

The cost of a doula can vary depending on many factors, including where you are located and the individual doula's level of experience. Some doulas may charge a flat fee for labor and delivery, whereas others may have an hourly fee, which is common for postpartum care.

Searching for doulas in your area will give you a better understanding of the average rate based on your preferences.

What services does a doula provide?

A doula is there to be your birth coach, your advocate with medical professionals and a support system for your partner. You may be familiar with comfort measures such as breathing, massage and positioning to help aid in delivery a doula is professionally trained in these skills. Is your partner unsure if a doula is a good idea? He or she may be able to benefit from a doula, as well.

"The partner is also experiencing his or her own life-changing event, and needs rest and nourishment and even just some downtime," Tortelli adds.

Doulas are not only in the delivery room. They also provide services after labor. Postpartum doulas can help you adjust to life after you've returned home, whether that's assistance around the house, helping with infant care or providing guidance on breastfeeding.

"Doulas help with this important bonding time, as we are there by your side providing education, encouragement and hands-on support," says Aliza Bancoff, the director of Main Line Doulas and founder of the International Doula Institute.

This can be an invaluable opportunity as you start your life as a mom.

Doulas can provide a number of additional services, like:

What are the different types of doulas?

There are three main types of doulas:

Labor/birth doula

A labor and/or birth doula is the traditional doula role. This type of doula meets with a mother a few times before labor to discuss goals and preferences. She joins the birthing process at the mother’s request and will stay throughout labor, providing encouragement and support. She typically stays in close contact days after the birth and provides at least one home visit.

Postpartum doula

A postpartum doula provides support to the mother and family for several weeks after the birth. She is on call to come in after the baby is born if the labor doula does not stick around for this. This type of doula often provides breastfeeding and emotional support or even helps around the house with laundry, sibling care or housekeeping.

Antepartum/high-risk doula

An antepartum doula is present before and during high-risk births. Her main goal is to assist the mother with lowering anxiety and keeping her comfortable. She’ll prepare the mother for birth and help with difficult decisions.

Other, more specific, types of doulas may include:

  • Sibling doulas

  • Abortion doulas

  • Miscarriage, loss or bereavement doulas

  • Adoption doulas

  • Geriatric doulas

Tips for finding a doula

Check doula certification and research the program

When looking into doulas, Bancoff advises to "make sure you are comfortable with their specific certification program. Doulas are becoming increasingly more skilled, with a wide array of really great training programs to pick from, and each program has a slightly different scope of practice." Do your research to make sure your plans are in line with their expertise.

Gauge their personality and your level of comfort

You are picking someone to be by your side at one of the most important and vulnerable moments of your life. Choose someone who is the right fit for you, your partner and the birth you desire.

Get referrals

Your friends have offered you recommendations on everything from high chairs to swaddles. Use your mom network to find out what they liked about their particular doula and what aspects of the experience they would change.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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