While woman-to-woman maternity support has been around ever since women have been having babies (well, technically, Eve was on her own), doulas are relatively new. In fact, the first US professional organization for doulas (DONA, or Doulas of North America; now called DONA International) only started in 1992. This leaves many women wondering, "If I have a labor support partner and a nurse during labor, do I really need doula?" The answer: Maybe.
The point of having a doula is to provide encouragement and support to new moms throughout pregnancy and birth; postpartum doulas even help with breastfeeding, housework, and cooking. Her role is to promote healing and bonding with the new baby — basically, whatever you need! Sounds nice, right?
Research seems to think so, too. Studies indicate that when doulas are involved in the labor process, women have fewer C-sections and report greater satisfaction with their birth experiences.
Doulas understand labor and birth from both the physiologic and emotional angles, and they know how hospitals work. They're gifted at helping women overcome really challenging contractions and labor transitions. They understand medical language and routine procedures, but they also know how to help mothers work around interventions that don't fall into their birth plans. And when those plans need to change quickly, the really great doulas know how to shift gears and continue providing top-notch support.
Sadly, there are also some challenging doulas. A few have strict personal agendas and confrontational approaches. They start arguments with medical staff over minor issues like taking mom's blood pressure. There are even doulas who have told their clients that under no circumstances would they allow them to have an epidural or C-section.
Plus, reimbursement from insurance providers is unusual. What happens to women who can't afford doulas? They receive support from their labor nurses, midwife or doctor, their partners and the people they've chosen to provide labor support. For many women, that's all they need and they report feeling well cared for.
Side note: There are doulas that are getting started in their career and can offer free services in order to get certified or more experience.
Still, more often than not, doulas are a real asset to the birth experience. Here's how to find the perfect one for you:
1.) Check their credentials.
While DONA International offers certification programs, certifications aren't required to work as a doula. But a certification shows that your doula has passed a test that demonstrates her knowledge and competency. Before deciding on a doula, ask her where she studied, and if she received a certification.
2.) Ask for references.
See whom she has worked with in the past, and actually call them.
3.) Search wisely
Visit doulamatch.net to instantly find doulas, along with their availability, education, certifications, and testimonials. Also check out: BirthTube's Doula Directory and the DONA Doula Directory.
4.) Interview potential doulas — in person!
You're going to be spending a whole lot of time with this person, so you need to make sure your goals are the same, and that your personalities are compatible. If you don't fall in love with the doula you interview, find one that fits your desires and needs.
Have some fun and take the Birth Quiz to get a FREE Labor Cheat Sheet!