Building your support team is important. Who you have in the room with you can greatly impact the outcome of your birth. Childbirth is an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. That’s why you can really benefit from a doula.

I’ve always liked the idea of a doula, but the nearest one to me is at least 45 minutes away and I often have fast labors. For that reason, I don’t have personal experience with a doula.

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But I know many pregnant moms are interested to learn what a doula does and how to find the best one for you. I talked to Emily Kurtz of N.E. Ohio Midwifery and Postpartum Services to get her perspective on how a doula can help you!

Benefits of a doula

A doula, by definition, is a person who provides emotional and physical support to you during your pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, the ancient Greek definition of a doula is a woman’s servant.

A doula can benefit you and your family both before and after birth. This member of your birthing support team will assist you in choosing birth and postpartum care options.

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To be clear, doulas are not medical professionals. They do not deliver babies or provide medical care, so you can’t skip choosing an OB or midwife just because you get a doula. However, they can guide you and educate you on birth. 

 Simply put, doulas build your birth plan with you so you can have a safe, memorable, and empowering birthing experience.

How do you choose a doula?

There is truly a doula for everyone! However, it takes a little work to find the one who is right for you.

Think about your specific needs and desires for pregnancy and birth. Is there a particular birth management method you want? Do you need support after the baby comes as well?

Having a clear picture of your vision of a doula’s role will help you in choosing the best one for you.

What questions should you ask a doula in an interview?

Take your time and research doulas in your area. Ask family or friends who have recently given birth if they have any suggestions, or check online. You can also ask your OB or midwife if they have suggestions (you do not want to choose a doula who butts heads with your medical team).

Pick a few people who sound like they might be a good fit, and then set up appointments for interviews. That way, you can get a feel for each other and find out if you click.

Here are some questions you’ll want to ask as you interview a potential doula:

  • How many years of experience do you have?
  • What education/certifications do you have?
  • What services do you provide before and after labor?
  • Which medical providers/facilities do you work with?
  • What is your emergency c-section rate?
  • How do you handle a birth that is not going according to your clients’ plan?
  • Are you able to help with breastfeeding concerns?

I also suggest asking for a reference or two. It’s important that you choose an experienced doula, as one who hasn’t seen many births will be less helpful.

It’s always important for a doula to remember this is your birth, not hers. While you may want guidance on what to do (especially if you’re a first time mom!), you should pick someone who actually listens to your preferences and concerns and doesn’t get too hung up on doing things a certain way. 

It’s critical to interview more than one doula. Take the time to figure out if you “click” with each other.  A doula should be knowledgeable in the area of natural birth, the physiology of birth, and lactation. If they are trained in these areas, they can make a huge difference during labor and delivery. If they aren’t, they can actually be a hinderance.

Benefits of a doula during pregnancy

Before your baby comes, a doula can help educate you and guide you to what style of birthing fits you. While a good doula won’t tell you how you should give birth (that’s not her job), she should be attentive and listen to your ideas.

Then, she can guide you to information to prepare for the birth you want, whether you need an online birthing course (this is the best one if you want to go natural), Hypnobirthing info, or anything else.

Doulas can also advise you on other concerns during pregnancy! They can give you nutritional advice, suggest exercises and stretches to strengthen your body during pregnancy, and more. The exercises they suggest may even be able to help you get your baby in a better position for birth! 

RELATED: Surviving the third trimester – Self care for common pregnancy aches and pains

In fact, doulas are not just for labor and delivery concerns. Many doulas can also help you with pregnancy aches and pains. Try to find a doula trained in Rebozo methods or Spinning babies techniques to help you better align your ever-changing back, hips, and pelvis.

In addition to giving advice, a doula can be a sounding board. They can be someone extra to talk to and listen to your concerns or fears. A good doula knows her limits and will guide you to the right person if a problem is beyond their scope of practice or expertise. Ideally, your doula should have a list of OBs, midwives, postpartum services, and therapists specialized in pregnancy/postpartum they can suggest.

What does a doula do during labor and delivery?

Before birth, doulas help you prepare for the big day by crafting a birth plan and suggesting exercises.

But of course, during labor is when your doula really shines. During labor, doulas provide evidence-based knowledge, pain management, positional help during labor, and emotional support.

Doula can help you manage pain with hands-on massage, keeping you relaxed and relieving tension in the areas that need it. As labor becomes stronger, she will switch techniques to help you.

Sometimes a doula will bring a TENS machine with her. This little machine can make a big difference, especially if you’re dealing with back labor. 

Many doulas have knowledge of essential oils and bring them with them to labor. Peppermint, Lemon, Lavender, Clary Sage and Frankincense are all very beneficial! Each oil has a use for a specific time during labor (Note: Make sure your doula is well educated in essential oils, how much is safe, and which ones are safe for pregnancy and/or labor before choosing to use them). 

Doulas are especially helpful during transition, the last and most difficult stage of labor before pushing. This is the stage when mothers most often start begging for pain relieving medications (even when they were adamant before about wanting a drug-free birth). 

Your doula will support your choices. Because the two of you have formed a mutual relationship, your doula will know how you want your birth to go and can remind you of your goals.

When birth gets really hard, a doula can help you remember your birth wishes and give you that last bit of strength and support so you can carry them out. It’s not that a doula speaks for you, it’s that she empowers you to find your own voice!

With that said, having a doula doesn’t mean you can’t get an epidural or that you’re guaranteed to have a vaginal childbirth, because anything can happen. What it does mean is that, no matter what happens during your labor, you’ll have someone knowledgeable who has your back.

RELATED: Natural birth or epidural: Which should you choose?

How does a doula help after your baby is born?

Directly after birth, a doula can help you and your new baby with your first latch. This makes a doula even more of an important investment if you’re at a hospital or facility without good breastfeeding support. 

Even if you are a seasoned breastfeeder, every baby is different. Every new mom and baby need time to get acquainted and learn about each other. New babies have never nursed and sometimes, it can take time for your little one to learn this skill. 

RELATED: Newborn breastfeeding – 12 tips

Your doula can help with different holds and positioning to make breastfeeding more comfortable. They can evaluate your latch and help you try ways to get a deeper one. If you are struggling with breastfeeding but want to continue, your doula should have the name and number of a trained breastfeeding professional to give you in-depth care. 

If you want a head-start on learning to breastfeed, check out Milkology. This comprehensive 90-minute course will have you as prepared as possible to breastfeed your new baby. It really is the best online breastfeeding course out there.

Do you need a doula if you have a supportive husband/partner during labor?

In some cases, your partner may feel overwhelmed by birth and may not know how to help. In this case, it’s obvious how helpful a knowledgeable doula can be! Doulas can help partners by instilling confidence in them and educating them on the changes you are going through. A doula can help partners learn calming techniques to assist you throughout labor. 

But you may have a different question: What if you have a partner who is confident in their ability to help during birth? Maybe this is your second (or third) child, and you both feel like you know what to expect.

A doula can still be beneficial for both of you! A third party who is caring yet less emotionally invested can reduce stress for everyone during birth. Especially if a birth doesn’t go to plan, an experienced doula who has seen several births play out can reassure both you and your partner. Plus, your doula coming by after labor to hold the baby while you and partner nap is worth every penny. 

Benefits of a postpartum doula

Birth is an event that starts at conception, but doesn’t end when you give birth. When you get home, you’ll be navigating life with a new baby. On top of that, fluctuating hormones, learning your baby, and lack of sleep can make anyone need help! 

RELATED: After childbirth – How to bond with baby

RELATED: How to take care of yourself postpartum – 7 tips

Some new moms have a family member who can stay home with them for the first few weeks after the baby comes, but not everyone has that luxury. That’s why a postpartum doula can be such a lifesaver. A postpartum doula will help with cooking, cleaning, childcare, light errand-running: Whatever it takes so you can sneak in a nap! 

Some birth doulas will also serve as a postpartum doula. If you hire one of these gems, you’ll have continuity of care (with the trust that has grown between you) from pregnancy throughout postpartum.

Conclusions on using a doula

There are so many reasons why you should hire a doula for your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum! Childbirth is an experience unlike anything else. It is worth investing in, and a doula is a great addition to your birthing team. 

I hope these tips have helped you in your search for a doula. And if you have experience with a doula, let us know how it worked out in the comments!

About the author

Emily has been attending Home birth with LunaBaby Maternal Child Health for 8 years, while maintaining her own Doula and Midwifery practice, NEO Midwifery. She has been involved in birth work for over 20 years and is currently a primary Midwife with Ohio Midwifery Collaborative. Emily is part of the Clinical Faculty for the PA program at Case Western Reserve University. Her special interests and extensive experience are in supporting VBAC ( Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), first time parents and water birth clients.

Emily is the mother of 5 wonderful children, the youngest born at home with LunaBaby and the others all attended by Midwives in other areas of the country. Emily offers prenatal and postpartum care in your home or in our office, complete home birth service and also accepts Hospital Doula clients who plan to birth in most Northern Ohio Hospitals.