Updated: Aug 12, 2020
When I became pregnant with my first child, I had not yet heard of doula support. I knew I preferred a physiologic birth and I was nervous about how I would handle the pain of labor. As my due date came closer, someone suggested I hire a birth doula and really, the rest is history.
I did hire a doula. This woman came to my house while I was in early labor to support me emotionally and physically through a long and uncomfortable period of irregular, non-progressing contractions. She slept on my couch when I didn’t need her. She woke up when I did. When it was time to go to the hospital, she came with us. She held my hand (literally and figuratively), she provided my husband with suggestions of ways to support me and she was my advocate during a few sticky spots with the hospital staff. My labor was long and hard and I’m sure that her support contributed to my ability to birth my child the way I wanted to. Days after my daughter’s birth, she was there to talk through the story and help me process the experience. And when it was time for me to have my second kiddo, it was a no brainer to ask her to support us again.
This is the value of trained, dedicated labor support. The doula provides non-medical, emotional and physical comfort measures to the birthing person and helps them advocate for their birth preferences. Doulas do not perform any clinical tasks and they are not there to make decisions on your behalf. The doula’s role on the birth team is unique because they are the only person present solely to support the birthing person and whose role is explicitly to protect the memory of the birth experience.
Is having a doula worth it?
There is science to back this all up. Having a doula by one’s side tends to favor shorter labors, reduced use of pain medication, increased likelihood of spontaneous vaginal birth, reduced risk of C-section and improved Apgar scores for baby [read more in this Evidence Based Birth Review]. But, one of the most valuable benefits is one of the most subjective: people who birth with a doula tend to reflect more positively on their birth experience. And birth tends to be an impactful event that one remembers their entire life; there are many reasons to protect its memory. Whether you are aiming for a physiologic birth (“unmedicated” birth), you know you want an epidural or you’re planning for a C-section, having a doula by your side can improve your overall experience.
How to find a doula
So, if you’re convinced- where do you go from here? How do you find a doula? Three great resources include Doula Match (an independent directory of US and Canadian doulas), DONA (an international doula certifying organization) or PALS (a Pacific Northwest based doula certifying organization, the oldest in the world!). Labor support is not a regulated or licensed profession, so while doulas can choose to become certified, a doula does not have to be certified to practice (and in fact, attending births is part of the certification process). Consider that certifying doulas may be more affordable choices and are quite capable of supporting a birthing person through labor. I encourage you to evaluate doulas on the basis of their training, experience, passion and personality. Choose a few whose website or online presence resonates with you and hold a couple of interviews.
I’ll be honest: I don’t want to be hired by every family that interviews me. I firmly believe that a doula can’t be an effective support person without a great emotional connection and so I encourage everyone to look for that great fit. I promise, I’m not offended if a potential client doesn’t choose me. I want us both to be successful. And I think most doulas would agree to this point.
Questions to ask when interviewing a prospective doula
If you live in an area saturated with doulas (Hello Seattle!), you’ll have plenty of choice once you start looking around. Here are some topics and questions you can discuss with your potential doula as you explore your options:
1. Background: Why did you become a doula? What do you love about supporting birthing people?
2. Fees: What does your birth fee cover? Ask about prenatal meetings, where and when you would meet during labor, whether there is any postpartum support and how much access you have to your doula once you hire them. You might also ask if there are any limits to their services, such as in the case of a very long labor.
3. Access: When are you on call for me? What happens if I go into labor early? How much access to you do I have?
4. Training: Where did you receive your birth doula training? Have you pursued any additional or advanced doula training? How to you stay up-to-date on current research and practices?
5. Backup plans: How many clients do you take per month? What happens if you get sick, have an emergency or are already supporting another client when I go into labor?
6. Values: Do you have any strong held opinions on anything like circumcision, vaccinations or epidurals that might prevent you from being 100% supportive of our choices surrounding our child’s birth?
7. Special Skills: Do you have any special skills or special areas of interest pertaining to birth work? Do you offer any add-on services?
8. Partner Support: How do you support or involve my partner while I am in labor?
9. Labor Support: What type of support do you offer while I am in labor? What techniques do you like to use? What do you bring with you to a birth?
10. Postpartum Support: What type of support do you offer postpartum? Do you offer support for breastfeeding/chestfeeding? Can you/will you make referrals to other perinatal professionals if we need assistance that is outside of your scope of practice?
But remember, the most important thing, more than years of experience or number of advanced trainings, is do you feel a connection to this person. Trust your gut. You are inviting this person to be present during one of the most intimate and memorable experiences of your life; make sure you are hiring someone you want to share the moment with.
I wish you the best as you search for a doula and throughout your pregnancy and beyond!
Want a printable copy of these topics and questions to have in-hand during your doula interview? Fill out the form below to receive a pdf copy of the checklist in 10 Essential Topics to Guide Your Doula Interview.
I am a Seattle-area Birth doula, based in Redmond, WA, serving the Puget Sound region. In addition to providing doula services, I offer support throughout the childbearing year- from pregnancy through parenthood- through perinatal personal training and pelvic health support. Contact me through my website by clicking here.