What is a doula?

When it comes to childbirth, having extra physical and emotional support might be something you find useful. During pregnancy, some moms-to-be hire a specially trained birthing coach, called a doula for extra assistance before, during and/or after birth. Of course, you don’t have to have a doula. The choice is entirely yours. To help you think it through, read on to learn more about what a doula does, what the benefits might be, and what questions to ask when hiring a doula.

What Is the Definition of a Doula?

The definition of a doula is a person trained to advise, inform, and offer emotional and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and after the birth of her child. The word doula comes from the Greek word doulē, the meaning of which translates to female helper or maidservant. Of course, the doula you hire is definitely not a servant, and may or may not be female, but the doula is in effect your helper.

It’s worth noting that a doula is not a trained medical professional. She does not replace your healthcare provider. However, she can offer care and support that a provider cannot, which we explain in this article.

What Does a Doula Do?

The best way to understand the job of a doula is to know the different types of support they can provide. A doula isn’t limited to just helping you during labour and the birth of your baby. She can lend advice during your pregnancy, and she can continue to mentor you after your baby is born. It’s up to you how and when you would like to utilize your doula’s expertise.

These are some examples of the support doulas can provide:

  • Physical comfort. She can provide a gentle touch or a massage during labour, or even just hold your hand. She can also help you use breathing techniques.

  • Emotional support. Whether you need reassurance, comfort, or encouragement, she can provide it. She’s also there to just listen, if that’s what you need.

  • Information. A doula’s experience comes in handy when you need information about what happens during labour, explanations of certain procedures, and what to look forward to in the postpartum period.

  • Communication. She can serve as a liaison between you (and your family) and the hospital staff. Sometimes it may be difficult for your family members to communicate with your doctor during your labour. Whereas your doula can serve as the point person, and help ease your family’s nerves while relaying information about you and your baby’s condition.

  • Guidance. A doula can also provide support to your partner and loved ones when needed. Whether you have a nervous father on hand, or an anxious mother, your doula can help them in an emotional capacity, too.

  • Assistance with feeding your baby. If you’ve chosen to breastfeed your baby, a doula can help you navigate the challenges of breastfeeding, including breast discomfort (for example, if you get the breast infection mastitis), getting your baby to latch, and finding comfortable breastfeeding positions. A doula can also answer your questions if you’re using formula. For example, when and how much to give.

  • Assistance with caring for your baby. If you’d like it, a doula can also help show you things like how to give your baby her first bath, how to soothe your baby if she’s fussy, how to care for your baby’s umbilical cord stump, and much more.

Benefits of Having a Doula

Some studies show that the emotional support of a doula can result in a more positive labour and postpartum experience for some moms-to-be. For example:

First doula

These studies make some great claims, but a doula is not for everyone. If you’re on the fence about hiring a doula, keep in mind that having one isn’t a requirement, and many mothers prefer not to use a doula at all. If you’re still unsure, it could be a good idea to chat with your healthcare provider about it. He may have some good insights on whether a doula could be right for you. Ultimately, the decision is yours.

Doula vs. Midwife

When it comes to a doula versus midwife, you should not be thinking in terms of either/or. There is a major difference between what a doula offers and what a midwife can help you with.

Think of a doula as someone there to provide you with lots of support, kind of like a birthing cheerleader. She can’t provide you with any medical advice but she can help you find the right healthcare provider or give you info on where to go for expert help.

A midwife is a specially trained and licensed professional who works closely with your provider to directly assist you during your pregnancy, labour, and delivery. Unlike a doula, a midwife is a registered nurse who has earned her master’s degree in nursing with a specialization in midwifery.

Hiring a Doula

If you’ve decided a doula may be a good option for you, think about when you’d like to start working with one, and start researching and interviewing potential doulas early to give yourself plenty of time to find the right one.

The association of doulas, DONA International, which also offers doula certification training, is a great starting point. DONA International even has a doula search tool you can try to help find one in your local area.

Alternatively, ask your provider, childbirth class instructor, midwife, and even family members or friends for recommendations. You might also want to contact your birthing centre or hospital for a referral.

Before speaking to potential doulas, you may want to find out whether a doula is covered by private insurance. Doulas are not covered by any provincial healthcare plan.

It might also be a good idea to ask your healthcare provider whether it will be OK to have a doula with you at the hospital or birthing centre, as there may be hospital policies or guidelines about the use of a doula that you may need to be aware of.

And, if you’re having a birth plan, you might want to add your chosen doula’s contact information, as well as an outline of her role during your labour and delivery. Don’t forget to share a copy with your doula, as well.

Questions to Ask When Hiring a Doula

The key is to choose a doula you feel comfortable with. Once you’ve found a few options, it’s worth having a discussion with each of them.

You might consider asking the potential doula about her

  • training, skills, and experience

  • how many births she has attended

  • her philosophy when it comes to labour and childbirth

  • how she feels about your labour and birthing preferences

  • what she typically does for moms-to-be during labour and childbirth

  • what various other services she may provide

  • and, of course, her fees.

When meeting with a doula, it’s also a good idea to discuss any concerns you may have about your pregnancy, and ask any other questions you may have. And, of course, you should just see how you feel around the doula—after all, you two will work closely together at a really important and personal time.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • A doula can provide emotional and physical comfort and support before, during, and after labour and childbirth. She can play the role of your birthing coach. A doula can also provide some information and guidance, and can sometimes be a go-between between you and the hospital staff.

  • No. A doula does not replace the role of your healthcare provider and midwife during labour and the delivery of your baby. Think of a doula as someone there to provide you with lots of support, kind of like a birthing cheerleader.

  • Most doulas do not have clinical or medical training. Doulas do have experience in childbirth and specific training from organizations like the association of doulas, DONA International. However, she can help you find the right healthcare provider or give you info on where to go for expert help.
  • The cost of a doula is not typically covered by private insurance but you should double check this with your healthcare provider to find out more about your specific coverage. Keep in mind that doulas are not covered by any provincial healthcare plan.

Whether you decide to have a doula during your pregnancy is a personal choice, and only you can know what would make you feel most comfortable. Although a doula is useful for some moms-to-be, it’s not for everyone. The goal is for you to feel as empowered and as relaxed as possible during pregnancy, labour, childbirth, and beyond.

While you’re here, take a look at our Go-To Pregnancy Guide to help you navigate this special journey.

And, to start earning rewards for your purchases made in preparation for your baby’s arrival, download the Pampers Club app now.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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