How to Choose a Birth Doula

Find the right trained labor coach for your delivery.
doula holding baby

Ocean Photography/Veer

Soon after I passed the 12-week mark of pregnancy with our first baby, my husband and I went on the hunt for a doula. We planned to deliver in a hospital with a midwife, but I wanted another trained support person on our team--someone who knew us well, would be by our sides for the duration of the labor, and could offer perspective on our situation from their own experience of attending births. So, for about a month, we "dated" doulas, meeting candidates around town for lunch and coffee. We eventually hired Katie, a doula who was an incredible source of support during the birth of our daughter. Whether you plan to deliver with an OB or a midwife, here's how to hire the right doula for you.

Think about your support team.
When considering whom to have at your birth, your list might not go beyond your partner, your mother, and perhaps a good friend. But you may want to consider hiring another set of hands to help you through the experience. "Women have always nurtured other women during birth, and pregnant women are often drawn to this type of support," explains Jessica English, a DONA-certified birth doula and director of public relations for DONA International, the leading association of doulas. Unlike most doctors or hospital-based midwives, your birth doula, or trained labor coach, will spend hours getting to know you, help you write a birth plan, and be by your side from the moment in labor you decide you need her until a few hours after the baby is born. She'll offer natural methods of pain relief and may help you get into new positions to help move your labor along. She'll work to keep you comfortable and calm, and serve as your cheerleader, giving you emotional support. If your partner needs a break, she'll be ready to step in so you won't be alone. She may also update your family as you progress, help you work through difficult decisions, snap the first postbirth photos, and be there to help you breastfeed.

"There's also impressive research that shows that women who use a doula have a 26 percent reduction in cesarean births, 41 percent fewer vacuum extractions and forceps deliveries, and a 28 percent reduction in the use of pain medication, which appeals to many families," English says.

Even before you get to the delivery room, your doula will support you throughout your pregnancy. She'll have information about prenatal nutrition; she may have articles or books to share from a personal lending library; and she'll be able to help with issues such as relieving lower back pain, managing insomnia, and preparing emotionally for motherhood.

Many birth doulas include a postpartum visit in their service. In such cases, a doula will come to your home soon after you give birth to help you process your feelings about your delivery, answer questions about caring for your baby, help with breastfeeding if needed, and discuss postpartum depression. (You can hire a postpartum doula if you decide you need extra support after you bring baby home, regardless of whether you had one during your birth.)

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