If you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you’ve probably heard the term “doula.” You know it has something to do with having a baby, but it’s not a common word for most people. We’ve collected questions from you as well as included some FAQs to help you decide if a doula is right for you! Boppy sat down with certified doula, breastfeeding counselor, and birth educator, Ashley Blankenship to get your questions answered!
What is a doula?
The most common question is what a doula even is. The term “doula” comes from a Greek word meaning “a woman who serves.” A doula serves clients by making their health and comfort a priority, without any expectations or judgment. A certified doula has been trained to provide research-based education, emotional, physical, and practical support to birthing persons and their families.
There are many types of doulas. The most common being birth, postpartum, and bereavement doulas. Birth doulas remain with the birthing person for their entire labor and typically a few hours afterwards. A postpartum doula comes to the home of a family who recently had a baby and helps to provide a nurtured transition to parenthood. A bereavement doula assists families faced with a loss in processing and healing their pain in a comforting way.
Are you like a midwife or doctor?
No. Doulas are not like a midwife or doctor. We are not qualified to give medical advice, diagnose or treat patients, prescribe/recommend medications, perform surgeries or procedures, and we do not replace a midwife or doctor in any way. We are an addition to your support team to make your birth and postpartum period as smooth and supported as possible.
What do you do, then?
Great question! Let’s break it down!
Birth Doulas: During your labor and delivery, nurses and doctors/midwives will check in on you periodically, but they are too busy to stay with you the whole time. Enter Birth Doulas! A birth doula stays the entire time and supports you and your partner (if you have one) with answers to your questions, nourishment, hydration, and encouragement. Birth doulas are also trained in different positions to help baby down, reduce pain, and speed up birth so you get to meet your baby a little sooner! Oftentimes, partners feel out of place and don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. Doulas include partners and help them to feel like they’re a part of the experience, too. After birth, a birth doula assists in breastfeeding (if it’s your wish to try) and makes sure everything is going well. Doulas can also ensure you’re utilizing your nursing pillow to the fullest extent before leaving. Often, they’ll set a time to come check on you after you bring baby home.
Postpartum doulas: After baby comes home, birthing persons are dealing with a lot. Their bodies are healing, they’re making milk (even if you’ve chosen not to breastfeed), they’re not getting much sleep, all while figuring out how to be a parent! Often times in American culture, we expect new parents to just figure it out. Traditionally, this is a time for new parents to be pampered and cared for while they care for and get to know their babies. A postpartum doula is different than a night nurse in that they care for the needs of the parents first. Assisting with nursing or bottle feeding, meal prep, running errands, caring for baby while parents get some much needed rest, light cleaning, laundry, answering all your questions, and parenting education are only some of the ways a postpartum doula supports families. Essentially, it’s like having a personal assistant that can show you the ropes of parenthood and doesn’t judge you for the choices you make.
Bereavement doula: Sometimes things don’t go as we planned, and the stress, fear, and mourning associated with a difficult pregnancy, birth, or loss is difficult to process alone. A bereavement doula provides emotional support, answers questions, and helps ease families through the grieving process. I know you don’t want to even think about this, but it’s good to know this option is there if necessary.
What kind of training do you receive as a doula?
Doulas receive comprehensive training in their specialties. Birth doulas are trained in the physiological, psychological, and biological occurrences during birth. They are trained in body mechanics (particularly how the pelvis moves to facilitate birth), comfort measures, and empathetic counseling. They are taught about common issues, interventions, alternatives, and how to train birthing persons to advocate for the birth they desire.
Postpartum doulas are trained in caring for infants, best feeding practices, safe sleep, and empathetic counseling, as well. Many also cook, tidy up, run errands, and help keep the household running smoothly. Many postpartum doulas are also trained to help initiate or terminate breastfeeding safely.
All certified doulas are required to engage in continuing education and re-certification. Not all doulas are certified, so ask when interviewing doulas where they received their certification if that’s important to you.
If the person giving birth will have somebody in the room with them, would a birth doula be needed?
Having a birth doula doesn’t take the place of a loved one supporting you throughout labor. Your loved one knows you better than a doula could, given the short amount of time available to get to know each other. However, a doula knows birth! They’re trained in knowing how to support during labor and birth, what you need, what you don’t, what you should be feeling, doing, not doing, etc. Birth is not as simple as some may expect. In some ways, your body knows what to do, but there are ways to help your body make birth better. A doula helps with that!
Why would someone want a doula?
It has been clinically proven that doulas benefit birthing persons in many ways. A relaxed birth is typically a faster and less painful birth. The constant presence of a doula has been shown to reduce the amount of medical interventions necessary, reduce the amount of pain medications used, reduce c-section rates, and shorten labor times. Doulas have also been proven to provide birthing persons with a more optimistic memory of their births. In other words, doulas help create happy memories!
Here is a list of scholarly articles that prove the benefits of having a birth doula: (https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=doula+evidence+based+birth&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart).
A postpartum doula helps stave off postpartum depression, allows for quicker healing, and more rested parents. A postpartum doula is also an excellent idea if you have no one to come help out after baby is born, or you butt heads with whoever is offering help. A Postpartum doula is on your team and respects your choices as long as it’s safe to do so. Many new parents understandably worry about their babies and a postpartum doula offers more appropriate information than Google and helps identify normal and abnormal behavior.
A doula can also assist in the proper usage of all those new baby products you’ve gathered during your pregnancy like your nursing pillow, or carrier. Safety is every parent’s number one priority and using products as intended and how they were tested is important. A doula can help make sure your baby is always safe and cozy! I applaud Boppy for the dedication to safety.
Hey, thanks! You can learn more about Boppy® product safety here.
It’s expensive. How can people afford it?
Having a doula may seem expensive at first but considering how long the memories of your birth will last, it may be worth it for you. Many insurance companies are covering doula costs because the decreased need for medical interventions can save them as much as 50% each birth. In some states, Medicaid will cover doula expenses. Most doulas will offer payment plans for services if necessary. There are also a ton of volunteer doula programs across the nation that may be able to help. Talk to your birthing hospital to find out if there are any in your area. Another option is to find new doulas. New doulas receive the same training as established doulas and are required to attend births before certification so they may be willing to do it for free or a reduced fee. Ask around to find a new doula, or head to doulamatch.net to find a doula you click with that’s new or inexpensive. If there are no doulas in your area, virtual support has become very popular since the pandemic hit, so you can receive care from anyone and anywhere in the world! Everyone who wants a doula deserves one!
Any last thoughts to share?
As a doula myself, I’m a bit overly excited by the benefits of doulas, but the proof is in the pudding. Doulas make birth better! You deserve the best birth possible! After all, without people like you, the entire human race would disappear! You are so important. Remember that when your sweet baby is barfing all over you, and had a major blowout on your couch, and won’t stop crying, and won’t sleep AT ALL! All of it. The good, the bad, the miraculous, it’s all important. Take care of yourself like you deserve to be taken care of! Remember your worth in this world. Remember how much you matter. Remember you are still you, but even better!