What Does a Doula Do?

By: Sierra Visser

June 19, 2023

Doula examining expectant mother

If you’re expecting a new baby, you may have been given the advice to hire a doula. You may have seen statistics of improved outcomes among those who’ve had a doula attend their birth. Perhaps you’ve heard that the etymology is from the Greek word meaning “to serve.” But how does a doula serve their clients?

A doula is a non-medical birth professional who will guide you through labor, birth, postpartum and beyond. Your doula can discuss your options with you so you can make informed decisions, as well as provide emotional and physical support to ease your experience.

While each doula offers their own style, there are certain services that most doulas will provide for their clients. Typically, a birth doula will provide at least one prenatal visit, one postpartum visit and continuous support during active labor. A postpartum doula usually provides support during the 12 weeks immediately following birth, sometimes referred to as the “fourth trimester,” but some will continue care after that as well.

Simply put, a doula provides informational, physical and emotional support during the childbearing year(s). Let’s take a closer look at these three ways a doula can support you.

The Basics

If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any. This is a common phrase in the world of birth work. When you’re in labor, you’re exhausted, in pain and there’s often urgency inherent or implied in any choices you make. So, when an intervention is offered, many birthing people accept it without question.

One method that can help the decision-making process is to check your BRAIN:

  • Benefits: What are the benefits of the proposed intervention?
  • Risks: What are the risks of the proposed intervention?
  • Alternatives: What are the alternative options?
  • Intuition: What does your intuition tell you?
  • Nothing: What if we do nothing? What if we wait?

When you’re in active labor, you might have difficulty remembering this acronym; that’s where your doula comes in. At your prenatal visits, you can ask your doula for guidance in preparing your birth plan, which can include contingencies for certain potential interventions. And as choices arise during labor, your doula can guide you through the benefits and risks and can provide you with alternative options you might not otherwise be aware of that are available to you. Your doula can remind you to check in with your intuition and can help you quiet your mind so you can listen to your instincts.

The Body

Although we tend to see depictions of people giving birth on their backs with their feet in stirrups, this is only one of many ways to give birth. Walking and dancing can speed up early labor. Side-lying or hands-and-knees can prevent tearing during the pushing stage. Sometimes labor stalls, and a change of position is often helpful to get things moving again.

Your doula can suggest positions depending on your stage of labor. Some labor positions might require the support of another person – your doula could fill this role or assist your partner in doing so.

Some doulas also provide massage or even acupressure, and most will do the “hip squeeze” that so many laboring people swear by. If your baby is presenting posterior, or “sunny side up,” your doula can apply counter pressure to alleviate back pain during labor.

Some postpartum doulas will do light housework while you rest and bond with your newborn. Others might care for your baby through the night so you can catch up on sleep. Many doulas have also gone through additional training to offer breastfeeding support and may be able to assist you with latch issues and nursing positions.

The Mind

Pregnancy, birth and postpartum periods can be some of the most emotional times in a person’s life. A doula will hold space for you and help you process your emotions before and after birth. It’s normal to feel apprehensive, or even fearful, about labor and birth, and discussing these feelings is the first step. A doula can help you navigate your concerns in a safe space so you can be prepared emotionally for your upcoming labor. Many doulas will also guide you through writing your birth plan, which can lessen anxiety about the unknown.

If you have a history of trauma, your doula can assist in communicating this, so you don’t have to relive the experience every time you meet a new medical provider.

Most people will experience some form of what’s often called the Baby Blues in the immediate postpartum period. The third day after birth tends to hit hard, as hormones attempt to regulate, but the Baby Blues can continue for weeks for some new parents. A postpartum doula’s support can be incredibly valuable during this time.

When the baby blues last longer than a few weeks, it could considered a mood disorder. Most doulas will recognize signs of postpartum mood disorders and will have resources available for additional support.

Choosing the Best Doula for You

With so many wonderful doulas in northern Nevada, you might wonder how you could ever choose just one to attend your birth.

Some expectant parents are unfortunately restricted by cost. With so many expenses related to a new baby, it can be difficult to budget doula services as well. Thankfully, Nevada Medicaid now covers doula care, and some commercial insurances are following suit. Check with your insurance company to find out if they might cover part of the cost for hiring a doula. If your insurance doesn’t cover doula services, some doulas offer a sliding scale based on income.

You may want to interview multiple doulas to find the right one for you.

If you’re the kind of person who wants all the information you can get, a more detail-oriented doula might be the best choice. But if you tend to feel overwhelmed by too many options, you might prefer a doula who only offers additional information as the situation calls for it. If you want massage or acupressure during labor, you might want to hire a doula with those certifications. Or maybe informational and physical support are not as important to you as emotional support, in which case your best choice could be a doula who has experience with postpartum mood disorders or trauma support.

Regardless of who you hire, be sure to clearly communicate your desires and expectations – not just for your birth, but also for your doula.

The most important thing when choosing your doula is trusting your gut. You need to feel comfortable with your doula, as they’ll be tending to you at one of the most vulnerable times in your life. When you find a doula that you click with, who listens to you and supports your choices, you have found the best doula for you.

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