What to Look For in a Doula

Everyone is talking about doulas these days. Maybe you’re curious about what we do and why having a doula may be beneficial to have at your birth. Maybe you’ve never even heard of this weird word and aren’t even sure how to say it. Doula (“doo- lah”) is rooted in Greek, meaning a person who serves. The word has been used to describe people who support birth in a nonmedical capacity. There are also postpartum doulas, end of life doulas, pregnancy termination doulas, and more. For our purposes, I’ll be using the term doula to discuss birth doulas.

What is a Doula?

So what does a doula do, exactly? A Doula provides informational, emotional, and physical, but non-medical, support. We can help you find a childbirth education class, help you formulate questions for your care provider, and support you in labor with hip squeezes and reminders to hydrate and how amazing you are, plus so much more. We don’t check blood pressure, cervixes or any other medical procedures nor do we make decisions for you. Doulas can be that person you call with the normal/not normal questions when you don’t want to call your provider yet again. But, we don’t replace partners or family members at your birth.

Rather, we can help them be more involved- to their comfort level- or give them a break to step out for a moment and eat or use the restroom. We can provide support to them as well since partners are often nervous/ excited/ unsure about what’s coming next. My doula partner, Emilie, and I always say that we like to be the supporting cast in your birth movie, rather than the feature. In your memories, we fade into the background as you, your partner, and baby shine in the foreground.

You’re inviting someone into one of the most intimate moments of your life. 

How to Pick a Doula

Ok, so now that you know what a doula is, what qualities should you look for in the right one for you? Just like when you interviewed care providers you want to find someone who fits well with you. We always do a face-to-face meeting with potential clients to ensure a good personality match. Emilie and I treat our interviews informally and meet over a cup of tea to get to know potential clients. We like to meet both people, if applicable, since it’s an incredibly intimate time in your lives that we may be invited into.

Personality match is the top thing to look for in a doula. Secondly, you may want someone with certain qualifications or skills. Many doulas are certified to practice but it’s not a requirement. DONA is the largest certifying body, but there are others as well. I also like DTI, even though they are smaller and less well known, because of their inclusivity of gender, sexuality, race and non-traditional ideas around birth. For example, if you identify as LGBTQI+, you may wish to have a doula who is understanding or even identifies as LGBTQI+.

If faith plays a large role in your life you may want a doula who understands that as well. Or, if you are choosing a particular childbirth method, like Hypnobirthing or the Bradley Method, you may wish for your doula to have training or experience in that. Some doulas are massage therapists, acupuncturists, herbalists, placenta encapsulators, yoga teachers, reiki masters.  A variety of other skills that may be of interest to you as well. Many doulas do both birth and postpartum. So, if you’re interested in hiring a postpartum doula you may also wish to have the same doula for both.

You want someone you feel comfortable, confident and safe with.

Where to Find a Doula?

So how do you go about finding this perfect doula for you? You can start an online search or you can go directly to a doula agency. The doulas in agencies are typically priced and sorted by tiers based on experience level (number of births attended). Other ways to find doulas are through friends, family and word of mouth. Many people you know have used doulas for their births, you may just be surprised to find out! Many care providers, yoga studios, massage therapists and others who work with birthing people may have recommendations as well.

All in all, my top suggestion is to meet with your potential doula in person to get a feel if you’re a good match. You’re inviting someone into one of the most intimate moments of your life. You want someone you feel comfortable, confident and safe with.

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