What is a Doula? Your Questions, Answered

Team Peanut7 months ago6 min read

Preparing for birth can feel overwhelming. Whether you’ve been to a handful of prenatal classes, or asked alllll of the questions on Peanut, when it comes down to your own birth experience, it can be hard to know what to expect or how to prepare. For some mamas-to-be, this is where a doula comes into play.

Pregnant woman using her phone

But what is a doula, exactly? What does a doula do, and how do you even go about hiring a doula?

Stay calm, mama. Here’s everything you need to know about doula services.

Table of Contents 📝

  • The doula definition
  • What does a doula actually do?
  • Why hire a doula?
  • What is the difference between a midwife and a doula?
  • What does a doula get paid?

The doula definition

The word “doula” comes from the Greek word doulē, meaning “a woman who serves.” Broadly speaking, a doula is a trained professional who supports a mama-to-be before, during, and immediately after childbirth. The support they provide can be physical and also emotional, and they can help inform parents to make the best choices for their birthing experience. They aim to help you have a healthy birth and maintain your wellbeing after your baby is born.

What does a doula actually do?

With that in mind, you might be wondering what a doula can actually do. Well, there are three types of doulas:

  • Birth doula — This is the most common type of doula. They help women prepare for birth and then support them through labor, delivery, and the immediate postpartum period.
  • Postpartum doula — Often a doula will be a birth and postpartum doula. A postpartum doula will help new parents adjust to life with a newborn, offering practical advice about things like breastfeeding, bathing your baby, and nutritional support for the new parents. Timing can range from a one-time session to daily support for several weeks.
  • Antepartum doula — This type of doula can help if your pregnancy is high-risk or particularly difficult, like if you are on bed rest or expecting multiples.

It’s recommended to look for a certified doula (not all doulas are). Organizations like DONA International have a search tool to help you find doulas in your area. If you’re wondering, Is a doula a nurse? The answer is usually no, though there are some nurses who doula as a side business, or nurses who become doulas as a retirement job.

If you’re considering hiring a doula, these are some of the ways they may be able to guide you through the birth and postpartum period:

  • Provide a source of information and guidance before birth to empower you in labor
  • Offer relaxation techniques, such as mantras, aromatherapy, and music
  • Suggest different labor positions to encourage your baby through the birth canal
  • Guide you through breathing exercises to cope with contractions and pushing
  • Non-medical pain management techniques, such as reflexology and massage
  • Act as an advocate for mama’s pain relief and birth plan preferences
  • Act as a liaison between the medical staff (i.e OB/GYN and midwives) and the family members
  • Lactation consultancy and postnatal nutritionist

Why hire a doula?

So why hire a doula? Think of them as your birth cheerleader, supporting you through what can be the most challenging and amazing time of your life.

Research has shown that women who have a continuous companion (such as a doula) throughout labor are more likely to have a quicker birth, rely less on medical pain relief, report a more positive birth experience, and have a more successful breastfeeding journey.

However, a doula won’t be for everyone. Birth is a very intimate and special time, so you may prefer to be alone or have minimal company during your birth experience, and that’s absolutely fine. But if you’re worried about losing your voice, or not understanding procedures or interventions suggested by your medical team, a doula might be for you.

A doula can also be a great idea if you don’t have a birthing partner — whether you’ve chosen to embark on parenthood alone, or if your partner may be away for work or your family lives far away. A doula is a trained companion to uphold your wishes and verbalize your preferences while you may be… er… otherwise occupied, ya know, having a baby.

What is the difference between a midwife and a doula?

There are three main differences between midwives and doulas.

A midwife is medically trained. Generally, they will be a registered nurse with a master’s degree in nursing, specialized in midwifery. This means they know the medical ins and outs of labor and birth. A doula is not medically trained. Instead, they provide a more holistic approach to supporting you, and offer pain management through non-medical techniques.

A midwife may be looking after numerous women in labor, so may not be able to support you through your whole birth. Your labor may last longer than your midwife’s shift, so it’s common to have multiple midwives attend to you throughout your birth. On the other hand, your doula is there from beginning to end, supporting you at every step.

Your midwife and medical team are there for you, but they are also looking out for the medical wellbeing of your baby. Once your baby is delivered, they will oversee the health of your newborn, too. Doulas are there primarily to support you.

What does a doula get paid?

The cost of doula services will vary depending on the level of care you need, so if you’re wondering what is a doula salary? there is no clear-cut answer. Some doulas may charge a flat rate while others may charge by the hour. In the US, doula services regularly cost between $800 to $2500. It’s quite rare for insurance to cover doulas, but it’s worth checking with your provider.

Doulas are becoming a more popular addition to the birthing team, so it’s worth doing your research. Looking for certified doulas in your area can take time, so start the search sooner rather than later in your pregnancy.

While it’s important to nail down the practicalities — like making sure your preferred doula is available around your due date, and you can afford their fees — it’s also really important to make sure you and your doula’s birth philosophies are compatible. After all, they will be supporting you, and advocating for you, at one of the most important times of your and your baby’s life.