What is a doula? What do they do? Why would You want one?

What is a doula? What do doulas do? Why would I want a doula?

Have you been hearing a lot about doulas lately and are a little curious as to what they are, why they are important, and why you might want one at your birth? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Here I’ll go over the basics on everything “doula”.

Table of Contents

  • What is a doula?
  • Why would you want a doula?
  • Common questions & myths about doulas.
  • Why doulas matter.
  • Where you can find a doula.

What is a doula?

A doula is a professionally trained person that supports women and birthing people physically, emotionally, and informationally during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.

Doulas help support you in the type of birth you personally desire. They help foster an environment that supports the normal physiology of birth, help with comfort measures, provide moral & emotional support, as well as provide information. 

They help your partner help you (without your partner having to be an expert on birth). They do everything in their power to put you at the best chance for a beautiful, informed and empowering birth experience possible. They are a pillar of calm during birth’s intense moments and hold space for this momentous life event.

Why would you want a doula?

  • If you are giving birth.
  • If you want to set yourself up for the most informed, supported, and empowering birth experience possible.
  • If you are wanting a low intervention or unmedicated birth.
  • If you are having a cesarean and want you and your partner to be supported emotionally, informationally, and physically.
  • If you are wanting an epidural and want support emotionally, informationally, and physically to help labor progress in the best way possible.
  • If you want your partner to be supported too. If you want your partner to have guidance on the best ways they can support you.

It’s incredibly important to understand that birth not only takes place physically but also mentally. The mental aspect of birth might arguably be the most influential part. Our emotions, the fear, joy, excitement, calm, feeling safe, ALL affect the symphony of hormones during birth. Keeping your head in a good place is vital. 

Doulas can help with that.

Common questions & myths about doulas.

A doula is the same as a midwife, right?

Not at all! Midwives are medically trained care providers. Midwives are able to monitor you and the baby’s well-being, provide pharmaceuticals or herbal remedies (if desired/needed), do cervical checks, etc. Doulas, on the other hand, provide emotional, physical, and informational support. Both incredibly important pieces to the birth puzzle, they just fill 2 different roles. They work hand in hand and both should be on your birth team.

They don’t really make a difference, right? They are just a professional hand holder.

Nope. They can make ALL the difference!

ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) states: “Evidence suggests that, in addition to regular nursing care, continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by support personnel, such as a doula, is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor.”

This study states: “Continuous support during labour may improve outcomes for women and infants, including increased spontaneous vaginal birth, shorter duration of labour, and decreased caesarean birth, instrumental vaginal birth, use of any analgesia, use of regional analgesia, low five-minute Apgar score and negative feelings about childbirth experiences.” *Analgesics is medication that is used to relieve pain. Example: epidural.

As summarized by Evidence Based Birth:

“…the best results occurred when a birthing person had continuous labor support from a doula– someone who was NOT a staff member at the hospital and who was NOT part of their social network. The researchers found that overall, people who have continuous support during childbirth experience a:

  • 25% decrease in the risk of Cesarean; the largest effect was seen with a doula (39% decrease)*
  • 8% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth; the largest effect was seen with a doula (15% increase)*
  • 10% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief; the type of person providing continuous support did not make a difference.
  • Shorter labors by 41 minutes on average; there is no data on if the type of person providing continuous support makes a difference.
  • 38% decrease in the baby’s risk of a low five minute Apgar score; there is no data on if the type of person providing continuous support makes a difference.
  • 31% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience; mothers’ risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience was reduced with continuous support provided by a doula or someone in their social network (family or friend), but not hospital staff
  • The rate of special care nursery admissions was no different between people who received continuous support and those who received usual care. 
  • The rate of Pitocin was also no different but there was a trend towards more Pitocin with continuous support from hospital staff and less Pitocin with continuous support from a doula.”

Can’t my partner just support me?

Absolutely, but… is your partner informed on the normal physiology of birth? What comfort measures to use for different situations? What to do when you are faced with a difficult decision or when things get really intense?

Doulas are not just for the person giving birth but also for their partner! Doulas help so your partner can take emotional and physical breaks. Doulas can give guidance as well as emotional and informational support to your partner as well. Doulas help your partner better help YOU.

Dads and partners sometimes worry they will be a “third wheel” but this is far from the case. Everyone works as a team and your partner plays an incredibly important role as part of that team.

A doula will tell my midwife, doctor, or nurse what I want and don’t want, right?

No. Doulas are there to help you ask the right questions, remind you of your goals during the fog of labor or transition. They can help you come to an informed conclusion when faced with difficult decisions by providing information, but they do not speak for you.

They can help you find your voice and help your partner find their voice, but only YOU speak for what you want or don’t want. Doulas are there to support you in exactly what YOU want, even if that changes.

What am I paying for when I hire a doula?

Doulas typically are on call for a month! But in reality, they are there for you from the moment you hire them. You are paying for their expertise, their knowledge and for their physical presence and support during your birth, no matter how long or short. They are there for prenatal and postpartum visits as well as the birth itself. You are paying for direct access to them via phone or email to answer any questions or help you work through any fears.

They are also there for you postpartum as an information resource and emotional support. They can help with breastfeeding (if desired) and can refer you to a plethora of local resources to help you have the best birth and smoothest transition to parenthood possible.

They are connected with other local birth workers, they know who the good care providers are and what the best locations are for the type of birth you want to have.

Hiring a doula is an invaluable investment and worth every. single. penny.

Why doulas matter.

The big picture: maternity care and birth is in crisis. In the United States, we are currently the most dangerous place to give birth in the developed world.

PTSD from birth is common. Postpartum depression often stemming from our birth experiences is common. Short and long term complications from sometimes unnecessary surgical births are common. Cesarean rates are sky-high, with over half of them being what the World Health Organization states as unnecessary, with the high rates creating worse outcomes not better.

It’s more important than ever to be informed and supported by a neutral party. One that is employed by YOU, not the hospital or anyone else. That way it’s you they are looking out for not for the best interests of another person or location.

Doulas and midwives have been proven to make a difference in birth.

Why doulas matter in regards to you and your birth: Can we control birth? No. Can we influence it? Absolutely.

Doulas are for every type of birth, whether you are looking for a completely unmedicated birth, low intervention, epidural, or cesarean birth. They are there for you if you have birth complications or a normal, straightforward birth. 

When looking for a doula, be sure to interview a few to get a feel if this person will be a good fit for you and the type of birth you want or not. Being comfortable with this person is SUPER important.

Birth can get intense. Extreme fear can quite literally affect your ability to give birth safely. Doulas are informed on how to support you and your partner in the type of birth you want. Can they control the outcome? No. But they can definitely put you at the best chance for a positive experience no matter how your birth pans out.

Birth matters. You matter. The way we experience huge life events like this matters. It’s important to prepare both mentally and physically, be informed, and surround ourselves with the best, most supportive birth team and location possible. 

Birth doulas can help with all of that.

Where you can find a doula.

  • DoulaMatch.net
  • BirthBootCamp.com
  • Your local midwives and childbirth educators will have recommendations.
  • Ask local moms and in online mom or parenting groups as well. Doulas are often parents themselves, so they’ll be in those groups too 😉

Did you have a doula at your birth? Did you feel it made a difference? 

I’d love to hear how your doula impacted your birth experience! 

If you love your doula and want to get them a cute little gift, be sure to checkout my cute birth worker tote bag and I love my doula onesie over at the mama shop.

Are you a doula or birth worker looking for support within your own birth business? 

That’s what I’m here for! Get back your time, lower your stress, attract more clients! Custom branding, website design & tech support, mindset support, and beautiful & effective marketing materials.

Learn more about my design solutions here.

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Kristen Mantell

Creator of Wild World Mama, LLC
Strategic Brand & Creative Consultant for Birth Workers
Former Birth Doula & Certified Childbirth Educator

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