Are you considering hiring a doula for your birth? Wondering what a doula does and how they can help? Curious if it’s worth the extra expense? Here’s the low down on everything that you need to know about doulas.
This is a guest Post by Ainsley McGovern. Please see her bio at the bottom!
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What is a Doula?
A doula is a person hired to assist women through their pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Some doulas also work with women postpartum.
Are Doulas qualified?
A certified doula is not a medical provider and therefore cannot birth your child. However, doulas are trained and educated in all things pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Make sure you check on a doula’s credentials and certifications before hiring her.
Doulas are there to prepare a woman for birth, serve as emotional support to both the parents, to advocate on a women’s behalf during labor and delivery, and to assist in a more natural birth through pain management techniques. (Note: I say natural childbirth because most people understand this to be no pain interventions. However, I HATE the term, because all birth is natural, no matter how the baby arrives!)
Even if you aren’t looking to have an all-natural (i.e. no artificial pain management like an epidural) birth experience, a doula can be there to help coach you through positioning and laboring comfortably, as well as being a great help during pregnancy and postpartum.
Most doulas also offer prenatal and birthing classes/sessions, either one on one or in groups. As they go through so much training, your doula is also a wonderful resource for knowledge on pregnancy and birth.
My Doula Experience
Hiring a Doula
During my pregnancy, my husband and I discussed all of our options when it came to birth. After reading plenty of pregnancy books, I decided that I wanted to try to have a more natural birth, but in a hospital setting. I loved my OB and felt more comfortable knowing that should my baby need medical assistance, I was already in the hospital.
However, neither my husband nor I had been to a birth before. We knew in general what to expect, of course. But we decided that having an experienced professional there during the entire labor would be beneficial.
We interviewed 3 different doulas, one over the phone and two in person. We decided to hire Doula Bianca (based out of New Orleans, LA) and it was the best decision that we could have made.
When people ask my husband about the birth, one of the first things he says is how everyone should hire a doula.
Doula Bianca met with us and answered all of our questions. What made her stand out was that she also answered a ton of questions we didn’t even know we had or that we needed to ask.
She was very likable, asked us all sorts of questions about what we wanted, and was not pushy to get us to hire her.
Once we did hire her, we signed a contract that detailed every little thing that she would and wouldn’t do or offer.
Included in her services were two prenatal visits and one postpartum visit.
The first prenatal visit was by far the most important, as we went over and discussed writing a birth plan. We talked through every option and possibility for birth, and she explained in layman’s terms what everything meant. Knowing I was looking to have a natural birth, she also showed me some stretches and exercises that could help with that.
Doula Bianca was also available via text from the moment we signed our contract. She answered every question that I had and was able to point me toward more resources I needed.
During Labor and Delivery
Once my water broke, I texted her to be on standby. She was supposed to come to my house once my contractions started getting closer together. I really wanted her to be able to tell me when it was a good time to go to the hospital, as I didn’t want to go early and then have the medical staff pressure me into pain management medications.
That didn’t quite go as planned—while she was on her way to my house, my husband decided that it was time to go to the hospital, so she met us there.
I know it sounds dramatic, but I truly believe that without Bianca there, I would have ended up taking pain interventions.
She helped apply pressure to my hips through every contraction and recommended positions for me to get comfortable in. Our doula used a TENS machine to help distract me during labor.
She also coached me and encouraged me, and she coached my husband on how to better help me when I needed it. She even physically helped by holding my leg while I was pushing.
Doula Bianca stayed with us in the hospital for about an hour after my son was born. She asked how I felt and told me how great I did. She made sure I had everything I needed and asked if I felt like everything went how I’d imagined.
Though part of my package was a postpartum visit, I have yet to actually schedule this with her! But she offers to come and watch the baby, help with breastfeeding questions or concerns, clean up some, etc.
Choosing a Doula
I would recommend you start by asking family and friends if they’ve used a doula in the area. You can also ask for recommendations in local mom Facebook groups. Ask your doctor or midwife, or use doula certification websites like cappa.net or dona.org.
You definitely want to interview a doula before you hire her. I would even recommend interviewing 2 or more, just so that you have something to compare to.
You’ll want to ask some specific questions about their training, methods, and what they’ll do to help you. Check out my post on Must Ask Questions Before Hiring a Doula and get your free printable interview questions!
But (possibly more importantly) you’ll want to find someone that you mesh with, someone who you connect with. You want to be comfortable with your doula—they’re going to be helping you during some of your most vulnerable moments. You want to find someone you trust to ease your pain, encourage you, and advocate for you.
How Doulas help during pregnancy
Doulas are trained in all things pregnancy and birth, so they usually come with a brain full of educational resources. Throughout your pregnancy, you can use your doula by asking questions and for advice on how to help ease pains, speed up labor, and have a more natural childbirth.
A doula’s job is to help you feel empowered. The best way to feel empowered about birth is to feel prepared and informed about all of your options. Having a doula by your side can be comforting, knowing that you have an expert in the room who’s on your side, knows your desires and can advocate for you.
If you’re feeling any pregnancy pains, like back or hip pain, doulas often can recommend stretches, positions, or exercises to help ease that pain.
Creating a Birth Plan
A birth plan is your idea of how you would like birth to go. Like I mentioned, I knew I wanted to try for a natural birth. I understood, of course, that birth does not always go to plan and you have to be flexible. If the baby or mom is in distress, things might need to be adjusted.
I highly recommend having a written birth plan that you can discuss with your OB/midwife. This is a list of all of the things that you do and don’t want during birth.
A doula can work with you to explain all of the common birth practices, interventions, and options out there so that you can make an informed choice.
I think that the best thing our doula did for us, was help us write out our birth plan.
Things you’ll decide on for your birth plan include getting an epidural, being induced, types of induction, vaginal exams for progression, electronic fetal monitoring, positions to labor in, having an IV, etc.
Please note, if you’re giving birth in a hospital or birthing center, there are likely some standard practices that you’ll have to follow.
How Doulas help during labor and delivery
An OB or midwife likely won’t be able to be there for you throughout your entire labor. However, a doula can be. You will be your doula’s only client, her only focus. She is there to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible, that your needs are met.
A wonderful part about having a doula you trust with you during your labor is that you can focus completely on laboring. You know that she has your back, that she is advocating for you.
Your doula’s job is to make you feel empowered during birth. If something needs to happen that isn’t part of your birth plan, she can objectively make a decision that aligns with your views and desires.
A doula can also help guide your birth team (husband, mother, sister—whomever you choose to be in the labor and delivery room with you) on how to help you. They can show them where to put pressure on your hips to help during contractions. Our doula did the physical help, allowing my husband to be my emotional support and hold my hand the entire time.
Doulas are trained to help you—she can notice when your labor is stalling and give natural ways to get it back going. She can also notice when you’re transitioning to the next stage of labor and give you natural comfort recommendations to minimize the pain.
Some studies have shown that having a doula at your birth reduces the likelihood of using an epidural or having an emergency c-section.
Choosing the right doula is so important because you want her to bring a sense of comfort to the room. You need someone who can encourage you, guide you, calm you, and direct you.
How Doulas help during postpartum
A doula’s job is not done as soon as the baby arrives. Most doulas will also stay with you for a little while after birth, making sure that you’re okay. They’re also often trained to help you with breastfeeding, educating you on positioning, latching, and any questions you have.
Ask your doula if she offers a postpartum visit. She can come to your house during the newborn period and help you wherever you need.
Need someone to talk to? Need some laundry folded? Maybe someone to watch the baby while you take a shower? How about someone to help more with breastfeeding or pumping? Need to know some stretches or exercises to help ease the pain? Your doula is here for you.
It’s nice to have someone who attended your birth who you can talk with later about the entire thing, to help you process what happened. The birth of your baby is one of the most precious moments in your life, and yet it’s so very hard to remember the details. Hard to really process through how much your life changed in just a few moments.
Some doulas also provide other services, like placenta encapsulation, newborn care, or postpartum classes.
All in all, I would highly recommend that all mommas consider hiring a doula, especially first-time mommas looking to have a more natural childbirth.
I think that second (or third or fourth…) time moms can benefit from the knowledge and experience of a doula. Especially if birth didn’t go quite how you wanted it the first time around, a doula can help craft your birth plan and coach you so that you can take control of the birthing experience.
And even if you don’t want a drug-free, no-intervention childbirth, a doula can help put you at ease and lessen the likelihood of you having an emergency c-section.
Are you considering hiring a doula? Did you hire a doula for previous births? What questions do you still have about how a doula can help? Let us know!
Good luck mommas,
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Meet the Author:
Ainsley is a first-time momma to her Little Man and blogger at mommamcgovern.com. She lives in Southeast Louisiana with her husband and son and writes about her experiences and struggles through pregnancy, birth, and motherhood in hopes to help other mommas have an easier time with information, honest mom reviews, and a little dose of humor and sarcasm.