Doulas can help you achieve an easier, more peaceful birth. Here's how to determine if you need one.

By Cara Birnbaum
Updated: April 02, 2019
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Understand the basics.

Unlike nurses, who may pop in and out of your room during your labor, a doula ( from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves”) can be there to assist you all throughout childbirth. Most doulas will meet with you at least once during your pregnancy to hash out any fears and questions you have and to discuss coping strategies. Once labor begins, your doula will meet you at your hospital, birthing center, or home, where she might encourage you to rock back and forth on a yoga ball, help you into the shower, massage your lower back, tell you how awesome you are—or all of the above. She can also teach your partner how to apply counterpressure during your contractions or offer your partner a chance to grab a quick snack.

Reduce risk.

A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that labor support can reduce the odds of a cesarean by more than 40 percent, likely because a doula keeps you calm, preventing the secretion of stress hormones that can interfere with labor. She can also help you cope with pain and get into a more active and forceful labor, which may postpone or eliminate the need for medication and reduce your risk of having an unplanned C-section. One research review, involving more than 15,000 women, found that those who used a doula had a decreased use of pain meds—as well as slightly shorter labors, fewer cesareans, and higher overall satisfaction with the experience. Babies born to these moms were also more likely to have good five-minute Apgar scores.

Find the right fit.

Doulas aren’t regulated by the federal or state governments, so consult the following organizations for candidates with proper certification: DONA International; Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association; International Childbirth Education Association; or Pro Doula. Each has its own benchmarks for training and birth experience. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, meet with each doula and ask her scenario-based questions. You should leave the interview thinking she really gets you and your needs. The cost of a doula can vary depending on your location, ranging from $800 to $2,500. Less experienced doulas—who have training but still require births for certification—may not charge as much. You may also get some coverage through your health insurance. Ask your provider if there are requirements for coverage, like a note or prescription for labor support from your doctor.

Sources: George Mussalli, M.D., partner at Village Obstetrics in New York City; Randy Patterson, co-owner of Northeast Doulas, in Peekskill, New York; Susan Pisano, former vice president of communications at America’s Health Insurance Plans; Tammy Ryan, a certified doula and Midwestern-U.S. regional director for DONA International.

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