What Is a Doula?

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A doula is a professional trained to support a person emotionally and physically throughout their pregnancy, during and even after childbirth. A doula is also meant to serve as a support person or coach for the person's significant other or family members who are playing an active role in the pregnancy. Doulas are often referred to as birth workers, which is an umbrella term that encompasses other childbirth and perinatal professionals.

This article discusses the role of a doula in the pregnancy journey.

Pregnant women with a doula touching her abdomen

kali9 / Getty Images

What Does a Doula Do?

In addition to emotional and physical support, a doula provides information to help you learn about pregnancy, the birthing process, and how to craft a plan before and during the delivery of your baby.

Doulas can't deliver babies, as it is outside of their scope of practice and unlawful for them to do so. It's also important to note that doulas cannot replace the role of a midwife or obstetrician. Unless they have additional education or licensure as a medical professional, a doula is an unlicensed support professional who is unable to perform any medical procedures or duties. 

Prenatally, the primary role of a doula is to provide information and education about pregnancy and what to expect. Some doulas even accompany pregnant people to their appointments, but due to recent COVID-19 restrictions, this may or may not be possible again.

As an alternative, meeting or communicating with your doula after your prenatal visits is an option, depending on the specific services you have agreed upon. 

A doula can also help you by coaching you through your birth with helpful breathing techniques and comfort measures.

For many, a doula serves as an additional safeguard in their birth plan to help them advocate for the birth they desire.

Doulas and Spouses

Sometimes there is a misconception that a doula is not necessary if a significant other is present, or that a doula will take their place in the delivery room. In reality, the opposite is true. A doula is meant to complement your support system, and their coaching can allow your partner to be as hands-on or off as you both desire.

Why Consider a Doula

Research shows that the continuous support of a pregnant person during childbirth can have many benefits for the birthing person and baby.

Some of the benefits include:

  • Increased likelihood of spontaneous vaginal birth 
  • Fewer birth interventions are needed (i.e. use of birth instruments during vaginal birth)
  • Decreased use of analgesia
  • Shorter labor
  • Decrease in cesarean birth
  • Improved Apgar scores, which measure the baby's health immediately following birth
  • More positive feelings about the birthing experience

Maternal Mortality

In the United States, maternal mortality is an ongoing issue, especially after childbirth. In 2019, there were 20.1 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Additionally, major maternal mortality disparities exist, especially for Black women, who are 2.5 times more likely to die during childbirth.

How to Find a Doula

How to Search for a Doula

There are several different ways to find a doula.

Start by searching the directories of professional doula organizations like DONA, CAPPA, and the National Black Doulas Association. Organizational directories are free and a good place to start researching local doulas.

A popular website, Doula Match is another free alternative to search for doulas who may be available for hire. Additionally, Doula Match lists include price ranges, which can give you an idea of how much you need to budget to hire a doula.

One of the best ways to find a doula or any birth support professional to assist you is to ask your network for referrals. Referrals can come from friends, your healthcare provider, or even a local reputable online parenting group. 

Different Type of Doulas

Birth and postpartum are the most common types of doulas.

  • A birth doula can help support birthing people prenatally and immediately after birth. The support in most cases will begin around the third trimester.
  • A postpartum doula can help care for your new baby and even take over some of the household duties like meal prepping and light housekeeping.

There are also a variety of different doula specialty areas that include support services for pregnant people, some of which include caring for older siblings, bereavement support (i.e. miscarriage, stillbirth), and abortion support.

Deciding to Hire a Doula

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you will need to consider hospital or birthing center protocols regarding visitors. Many birthing centers have continued to permit doulas at births as a support person.

However, depending on the hospital, there may be certain criteria and rules set that limit the amount of people present during your birth. Only one support person, like a significant other or family member, may be allowed in some cases.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring

You should meet with and vet any potential person you want to hire as part of your birth team. This includes potential doulas.

You will want to ensure that they are a good fit for your needs, personality, and have the necessary experience to support you prenatally and during your birth.

Some questions that you may want to ask during an interview are:

  • What type of training or certification(s) do you have? 
  • What does your experience include? Do you specialize in any particular type of births (i.e. natural birth, home births, cesareans, multiples, or vaginal birth after cesarean [VBAC])?
  • How many other pregnant people have you supported?
  • What types of services do you offer?
  • How much will it cost to hire you? 
  • If you’re not available when I go into labor, do you have a colleague who can support me? Can I meet that person in advance?
  • Do you have a contract for me to sign?

Average Cost

Based on your geographical location, the experience level and services offered will dictate the cost of the doula. The average cost of a doula in the United States is between $800 and $2,500.

There are community programs that provide free or low-cost doulas, and some doulas offer a sliding scale. Some insurance companies and employers have begun to reimburse or cover the cost of a doula.

Summary

A doula is a trained professional that aids a person during their pregnancy journey. They provide both physical and emotional support, as well as education on pregnancy. A doula does not assist with the actual birth and is not able to deliver babies.

A Word From Verywell 

The birth of a baby is a joyous occasion, and having a support system in place can make it even better. Many parents benefit from hiring a doula to support them in their journey. If you cannot afford a doula, there may be free or low-cost options in your area. Know that even without a doula, your birth care team is well-equipped to guide you in your pregnancy.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Cleveland Clinic. Labor without medication: coping skills. Updated April 9, 2018.

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  5. MedlinePlus. Apgar score. Updated October 8, 2021.

  6. Hoyert DL. Maternal mortality rates in the United States, 2019. National Center for Health Statistics;2021. doi:10.15620/cdc:103855