Maybe you've heard that hiring a birth doula is a great way to make your overall childbirth experience a better one. Perhaps you're hoping to avoid specific complications or unnecessary medical interventions. It's possible you're wanting a woman who's "been there, done that" to be a reassuring presence. Whatever your reason, you've decided to hire a doula to assist you throughout labor and birth. Not all doulas are created equal. Personalities vary. Just as when you're shopping for anything else, it's important to find the best fit for your own style and comfort's sake.


What is your philosophy of birth?

If you've gotten as far as researching birth doulas, odds are very good that you have already developed your own thoughts and philosophy about birth. Does hers match yours? Philosophies that jive are the foundation of the relationship that you will develop together. Matching philosophies build trust, and trusting your doula will help you feel safer and more at ease in the delivery room. Doesn't a more relaxed labor sound appealing?


What is your experience as a doula?

Does it matter to you how many years this doula has been practicing? Do you prefer a newbie or a veteran? Through which organization is she certified, if any? There are many national certifying organizations from which to chose, but some doulas only have hands-on training. The number of clients a doula takes on per month might also affect your decision. Imagine a doula who works with two clients versus a doula who has four or more per month. Doulas need time to recover from births too. Will your doula be rested enough from her last birth to be ready for you?


May we meet to discuss our birth plans?

Most doulas like to meet and get to know their clients and often offer at least one, if not two, meetings before baby is born. Generally at 36 weeks, a doula will go on call for you. Ask about her on-call policy. Share a copy of your birth plan with her and discuss your wishes before labor begins, during, and even after baby is born. Your doula will be there to remind hospital staff of your wishes. Besides your birth partner, she is your No. 1 advocate. It's important that she knows your intentions well.


Once I'm in labor, when will you join me?

Some women prefer to labor at home long before going to the hospital or birth center. Will your doula be able to meet you first at your home and then travel with you to your birthing place?


Do you have a backup whom I can meet?

Doulas are human — susceptible to sickness, accidents, and other life happenings. For any reason, your doula may be unable to attend your birth. Perhaps her backup is someone whom you can meet and become acquainted with in the event the doula cannot get to you quickly enough. Your doula should arrange for you to meet her backup just in case.


What happens if I choose an epidural or opt for other interventions?

Most doulas serve expectant mothers wherever they choose to birth. But what about however they choose to birth? Are you on the fence about having a natural versus medicated birth? The last thing you need to feel is more pressure from anyone to make important medical decisions. Even a mom who is committed to having a natural birth may change her mind. And she has every right!


What happens if in the end we need a cesarean section?

In some cases, doulas will actually accompany mom and dad into the operating room. But more commonly, if a C-section is needed, your doula will wait for you in recovery. Perhaps she'll gather up your belongings and move them to your new room or talk with your family members who are awaiting news on you and baby.


What happens after baby is born?

Generally birth doulas stay with mom, birth partner, and baby for the first few hours following birth. Doulas at this time can be as involved as you wish. Doulas are knowledgeable about hospital procedures and evidence-based mother/baby care. After the first few hours, and once you are settled into your new room, your doula will say goodbye until she sees you again at your postpartum visit.


Do you offer help with breast-feeding?

Whether you're a first-time mom or a mom who knows the ropes, breast-feeding is an adventure unto itself. Each baby is different, and initial latching is important. Doulas can most definitely assist with this process. Some doulas are also lactation consultants. Is yours?


Do you offer any postpartum services?

Some birth doulas are also trained as postpartum doulas, though they may charge separately for those services. Once you and baby are settled at home, postpartum doulas can assist you there. Some are knowledgeable about breast-feeding, while still others assist in with meal preparation or household work. Whether or not they offer specific postpartum services, most birth doulas will come back to visit a few days to a week after baby is born to check in and see how your new family is doing. This meeting is a great time to discuss the birth. Often doulas keep notes during the birth. It's easy for mom and dad to be in the moment. Details and the timing of events might be fuzzy. The at-home visit is a time to share perspectives and recap the entire labor and birth.

The bottom line^ Your baby's birth is an intimate, once-in-a-lifetime event. Anyone you invite into that space should understand your wants, your hopes, your dreams — and then do the very best to honor those. It goes without saying then that you should feel comfortable with the doula you hire. She is there to serve YOU, not to push her personal birth agenda. Whether you're planning a natural birth or a medicated one, rest assured your doula will be your emotional and physical support person from start to finish. Perhaps eventually you'll grow to call her a friend.

To find a doula in your area

First check with your obstetrician or midwife. He or she may be able to give you a reference list or point you in the direction of your community's birth professionals. You can also check with these national organizations for a list of birth doulas in your area: 

More on doulas

Do you doula?
Pick the perfect doula
Prepare for natural childbirth

Topics: doula