Choosing A Birth Doula

Laboring mother and her partner

A birth doula is a non-medical support person for your labor and delivery. Most commonly, a birth doula will arrive at your home while you’re in labor, help make the decision on when to go to the hospital or birthing center, assist the laboring parent and support parent in a variety of ways, and just be the go-to experienced “birth person” in the room to support you with questions and issues. Often, also, the birth doula pays a visit 24 to 48 hours after the birth to ensure the new family is settling in comfortably. New parents don’t know what they don’t know about labor and delivery, and there are so many ways for a birth to go down! It’s important that the laboring parent feel safe and supported throughout the process in order for things to go as smoothly as possible and gain a great start as a new parent, and a birth doula can help you do just that.

I had a doula for my daughter’s birth, however and unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I received the support I needed. Not all doulas are created equal. Some are more passionate about their work than others, and generally speaking the more passionate show up more fully. There were some additional steps I probably could have taken to ensure a good fit. Also worth discussing, doulas and other birth workers are human, too. They make mistakes, and not every day at work is their best. Though for the laboring parent, these birth workers not having a good day can lead to some lasting and disastrous repercussions for these extremely important moments of bringing a child into the world. So, learning from my mistakes, I’d like to help expecting parents in their doula search by presenting a few strategies to use when choosing a doula. Keep in mind that while the below tactics help in choosing a birth doula, because we’re all human, you can’t guarantee a perfect performance on the big day (or days!).

Before you even start your search, first ask yourself some questions:

  1. How do you want a doula to help in your birth?
  2. How do you envision your birth going?
  3. What type of support do you most want? Hands on or off? Following your lead or more external guidance? Emotionally supportive or a little more detached? Does your partner need guidance and support too?

Perhaps you could sketch out a quick birth plan here. Once you do find a doula, you could review this plan together to see where you may have some knowledge gaps, and then work together to be better prepared for what may happen in the delivery room.

Seek out a handful of doulas to interview. Google, Doula Match, Dona International, friend and health care provider referrals are all great places to look. As you compile a list, check out the doula’s or doula network’s reviews online—including their Facebook page and website. When reading reviews, try to find specifics. While “She was great,” is a nice thing to say, it doesn’t tell you how that person was supported through the doula’s services. And this is where your answers to the questions above will help narrow down your search.

Things to discuss in your doula interviews:

  1. Ask about their approach to birth. How do they feel about medical interventions? Beware of strong feelings in either direction, as that doula may try to persuade you in their preferred direction rather than listening to your preferences.
  2. Ask about their experience and relationship with your provider and your planned birthing location. Look for red flags of tense relationships, strong disagreeing opinions, and too little knowledge of specific to that provider/location policies.
  3. What does this doula do for backup? This is the stinger that got me. During my labor, my doula left “for a family emergency” and did not send a replacement. I stalled out, and ultimately had to be transferred to the hospital (from the birthing center) because my trust in my support team had been broken.
  4. What does the doula recommend as far as a birth plan? Are they willing to discuss your options if your “plan” gets derailed? I was planning on that perfect birth center birth. When things didn’t go as planned, I had no idea what to expect when I went to the hospital, and that should have all been discussed with my doula beforehand and in my birth plan. Talk about options if you need an epidural, talk about if you want an epidural but can’t get one, talk about the hospital’s c-section procedures and what options you have there, and talk about your postpartum options. Not all of these details have to be ironed out at the interview stage, but just looking to see that this doula is planning to have these discussions before your due date.

I hope this information helps you in your search for a birth doula! If you’ve had a successful experience with a birth doula and have things to add here, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out if you have any questions, and good luck!

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