Choosing a Doula

What is a Doula?

Doula is a Greek word for “woman’s servant.”

Birth Doulas (aka Labor Support Doulas)

A birth doula is a supportive companion professionally trained to provide physical and emotional support during labor and birth.

A doula provides continuous support, beginning during early or active labor, through birth, and for approximately 2 hours following the birth. The doula offers help and advice on comfort measures such as breathing, relaxation, movement, positioning, and massage. She also assists families with gathering information about the course of labor and their options. Her most critical role is providing continuous emotional reassurance and comfort.

Doulas attend home births and hospital births; medicated births and unmedicated births, with women whose care is being overseen by doctors or midwives. Doulas may be the only support person for the mother, or may be part of a labor support team including mom’s partner, friend(s), and/or family members.

Doulas specialize in non-medical skills, and do not perform clinical tasks, or diagnose medical conditions. Doulas do not make decisions for their clients. Their goal is to provide the support and information needed to help the birthing mother have a safe and satisfying birth as the mother defines it.

Postpartum Doulas

There are also postpartum doulas, who provide support after the baby is born. They have knowledge about postpartum recovery, breastfeeding, and newborn care. Their services vary depending on your needs, and might involve anything from a one-time visit for information and advice, to providing overnight care every night for a month. The rest of the information on this site is about birth doulas. To find out more about postpartum doulas, go to: http://napsdoulas.com/what-is-a-doula/

Proven Benefits of Doula Care

Decreased medical intervention in labor*: lower rates of cesarean, forceps, pain medication. Shorter labors. Higher satisfaction. Increased breastfeeding. For all the details on the research, see www.dona.org/PDF/Birth%20Position%20Paper_rev%200912.pdf

Doula Services Typically Include:

  • One or two prenatal conferences, where doula and parents: discuss their birth plan and goals for the birth, address any concerns or fears regarding the birth, and the doula shares information about what to expect during labor and birth
  • Telephone / email consultations for questions and concerns
  • Attendance at the labor and birth (beginning whenever the mom asks the doula to come and continuing until 2 hours after the birth) providing emotional support, assistance with comfort measures, support for the birth partner, assistance with asking questions of the medical professionals
  • Postpartum visit: breastfeeding support, baby care tips, discussion of birth experience, and referrals to community resources.

For information about how the doula and mom’s partner work together to support her, read this paper on Dads and Doulas. To learn more about what kinds of women choose doulas and what their reasons are for choosing a doula, click here: 12 Sample Doula Clients.

How much does all this cost?

All those services are typically covered in one flat fee.

How much a doula charges for her services depends on these four factors: how much training/education she has (as a doula, or related training, such as nursing, massage, or social work), how much experience she has, what other doulas are charging in her area, and what her income needs are. (For some women, doula work is a labor of love, for some it is supplemental income, for some women it’s their sole source of income.)

In the Seattle area, a new doula may charge $300 – 500. Experienced doulas are charging $500-1000. A few doulas are charging $1000 – 1800. Some doulas offer a sliding scale fee, where lower income women can request a lower fee.

How to Find a Doula for your Birth

Step #1: Find a list of available birth doulas in your area. Here’s some good resources for that:

  • Ask your childbirth educator, midwife, or doctor for referrals.
  • In the Seattle area, contact PALS Doulas.
  • Use doulamatch.net to search for doulas in your area – you’re able to filter for availability for your due date and many other criteria.
  • Doulas of North America (DONA). (888)788-DONA. www.dona.org       DONA is the major North American doula organization, and on their website, you can get referrals to certified doulas in many cities.
  • There are a number of doulas who have personal websites up. Try a google search, and see what you come up with.

Step #2: From this list, and any additional information you can find out, pick 3 – 5 doulas to contact via email (with a backup list in case they’re all booked up) to set up phone interviews.

Step #3: Call the doulas you’ve chosen and do a brief phone interview with them.

  • Tell them you’re doing an initial phone interview of 3 – 5 doulas, to get a sense of who might be a good match for you and your needs.
  • Find out if they are available for your due date. Find out a little more about their experience, the skills and attitudes they bring to a birth. Find out about fees and other practical details.
  • Most importantly, in this phone call, you’re checking out “the vibes”. Is this someone you think you could be comfortable with? If so, set up an in-person interview.

Step #4: Meet with one or more doulas in person.

  • Find out more about them, tell them more about you and your birth plan.
  • See if you have compatible philosophies, and if you think the style of support they offer would be helpful to you.
  • If the interaction doesn’t feel right to you, then let them know that, and try interviewing other doulas! Although training and experience and fee structure are all important factors in the selection, the most important factor is: do you and your partner feel comfortable with this person. Would you feel comfortable having her at your birth, and do you think she would be a good support for you? All of us have different personalities and styles, and sometimes the chemistry just doesn’t feel right. Trust this instinct and move on.

Step #5: Hire a doula and start working together on the details of your birth plan.

  • Once you have found “the right doula”, start making arrangements with her for your birth.
  • If you need a few days to decide, tell them this, but do make your decision soon, otherwise your doula may have to pass up prospective clients while waiting for your decision.
  • Most doulas will ask for a deposit before going on-call. This is because when we commit to a birth, it’s a major commitment: it means not taking other clients for that time period, it means not going out of town, or making social plans that can’t be re-scheduled, and taking a cell phone everywhere we go. We have chosen the job knowing the level of this commitment, but it is also important to us that our clients honor that: if at some point you decide not to use a doula as planned, it is very important to call and let them know that so they can make other commitments.

For questions to ask in interviews, look here.

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