Understanding the Role of a Doula

Feeling prepared for your baby's arrival is an important part of your birth experience - Learn what a doula is, how they can help, and what their role is during your pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding journeys. 

Hiring a birth doula has become so popular among some expectant women that many are booking their doula during their first trimester of pregnancy. Thinking of hiring one yourself, but not sure if it’s something you’ll benefit from? First, it’s essential to understand what a doula is, what one does and doesn’t do, and what to look for when hiring one.

What is a Doula?

While a doula can be a man or woman, the Greek word “doula” means “a woman who serves.” A doula is not a medical professional, but is a specially trained birth coach who understands all aspects of pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and postpartum care. A doula is a coach, advocate, liaison between a doctor and a mother, or between a mother and her partner. The doula’s main objective is to care for mom by providing physical and emotional support.

Types of Doulas

There are several types of doulas, many of which specialize in specific needs or certain stages of your prenatal, delivery, or postnatal journey. The type you choose depends on a number of things, such as where you are in your pregnancy and the type of care you’d like to receive, what kind of birth experience you’d like to have and what kind of care you’d like to receive postpartum. 

  • Birth. The primary role of a doctor, nurse or midwife is to monitor and provide care for you and your baby. The birth doula is present before and during a birth to focus on just you. The doula can help during pregnancy by teaching you and your partner methods to ensure a smoother labor or different birthing options, like water births or home births.

    During labor and delivery, the doula is present to ensure your physical comfort, provide emotional support, advocate for you, communicate with medical staff, and offer assistance with breastfeeding, providing these services whether your little one’s birth takes place in a hospital or at home.
  • Antepartum. An antepartum doula provides care for moms who have psychological or medical issues during pregnancy, such as a mother who is confined to bed rest. This type of doula helps with organizing the household, preparing meals, assisting with childcare for older siblings, and more. Well-versed in high-risk pregnancy, the antepartum doula provides you with physical and emotional support and care prior to birth.
  • Postpartum. A postpartum doula provides in-home care and support after your little one arrives. This type of doula can offer advice for a new breastfeeding mom, provide emotional and mental support to both new parents, and share knowledge regarding your new baby’s care, feeding, and sleeping needs.

Doula Versus Midwife

A midwife is a medical professional, while a doula is not. During labor, a midwife is focused on the birth, as well as care for both mom and her newborn. A doula is focused solely on mom. Many women find that utilizing the services of both a doula and a midwife makes labor and delivery progress more smoothly.

Benefits of a Doula

Doulas can help you have a positive birth experience. There are many benefits to using a doula, including:

  • Lowered anxiety and stress before, during, and after the birth.
  • A shorter labor with a reduced need for pain medication or medical interventions, such as a C-section.
  • Reduction in postpartum depression.
  • Decreased likelihood of post-traumatic stress or depression brought on by a negative childbirth experience.

You may also wish to consider having additional resources readily available at your fingertips, such as the Expectful app, for even more helpful content and tools that - in addition to your doula - can help minimize stress and support the pregnancy and postnatal experience you want. 

Cost of a Doula

A brand-new doula might charge $500 for a birth, while a more experienced doula may charge up to $3,000. Postpartum doulas typically have hourly rates that range from $20 to $45 per hour. Fees can vary based on your own unique needs, as well as your location. For example, doula services in a large metropolitan area may differ from those provided in a small suburban community.

Doula services are not usually covered by health insurance, but may be compensated through funds from a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA).

Choosing a Doula

Choosing a doula with whom you feel comfortable and can trust is extremely important. You also want a doula who has been appropriately trained and certified. Before hiring your doula of choice, be sure to check his or her references and gather information about their experience. Ask the doula about costs and exactly what services are provided. Finally, your partner should feel at ease with the doula as well, so make sure they are involved in the selection process too!