In 2019, it’s almost certain that any pregnant person with a smartphone and an Instagram account knows what a doula is (a non-medical childbirth support person, for any latecomers). A doula can accompany pregnant women through the transformative process of pregnancy, labor and postpartum. And there is evidence that a doula can provide both physical and emotional support, as well as a variety of other benefits, some of which include a lower chance of Cesarean and a higher rate of satisfaction with the overall birth experience.
Choosing a doula is a big deal, though—they will be a major part of your support system during this hugely important time in your life. So how do you find and pick the right doula for you?
Finding a doula
The obvious place to start is, of course, the internet. You can do a simple Google search for doulas in your area, but also check out DoulaMatch.net (a national doula database) or peruse the directories from doula training organizations like DONA International, Sista Midwife or Doula Trainings International.
Word-of-mouth is one of the best means to find potential doulas. You may get recommendations from friends, family, and even your local parenting Facebook groups. Sabia Wade, a full-spectrum doula, doula trainer and mentor in San Diego, says she gets the vast majority of her clients from word-of-mouth and social media.
If you take a childbirth class, you can ask the teacher about doula options in your area. Some midwife and obstetrician practices also have lists of local doulas or will suggest specific ones they work with. If you trust and feel aligned with your provider, this can be a way to get some other names to check out.
Things to consider
Every doula is different and brings their own personality, philosophy, energy and experience into the birthing room. You may want to consider whether or not the doula is certified (although certification is not required to practice as a doula in any state), their years in practice, number of births attended, specific training, further education and other skills, such as massage or aromatherapy. Some families will also want to find a doula who has a similar background, views or beliefs.
If you’re a marginalized person, says Wade, “Queer, trans, person of color, poly, disabled, be sure to hire someone who has some understanding of your experience. They don’t have to match exactly, but they should have an understanding and self-education of what your experience might be like.”
Figure out what resonates with you for your pregnancy and birth experience, and from there, what criteria will matter in the type of support you want. If you’re planning a vaginal birth after Cesarean, you may want someone who has supported a lot of VBAC births. Maybe you want a doula who also offers belly casting, or postpartum cooking, or is a lactation consultant.
Doulas can range from $200 (for a student or inexperienced doula) all the way to upwards of $3000 (for professional doulas in high-cost-of-living areas like Los Angeles or New York City). Most doula packages are somewhere in the $500-$1500 range and include several prenatal and postpartum visits, weeks of 24/7 on-call time, continuous birth support and other perks.
Expectant families are often on a budget, though, and cost can be a concern. Many doulas offer flexible payment plans, sliding scale, or even barter agreements with clients. Others work in partnerships, agencies, co-ops, or other group practices, and these types of structures often have multiple options for payment. Community doula groups may be funded with grants and charge a nominal fee.
Choosing a doula
After you’ve identified some doulas you’re interested in, start with a deep-dive on their websites and social media profiles. Get a feel for what they share, how they represent themselves and the general vibe they present to the world. From there, schedule interviews with those whose words and ideas speak to you.
You can chat over the phone or text at first, but a face-to-face meeting (make sure to include your partner or others who will be present at the birth) is vital to see if you’re a fit. Most doulas offer a no-cost interview or consultation at a neutral place like a coffee shop. If that isn’t possible, try Skype or FaceTime. You may also be able to attend a “meet the doulas” or “doula speed dating” event where you can hear from a few doulas at a time.
Show up prepared to get personal—ask about qualifications and experience, sure, but don’t shy away from delving deeper to see if there’s a true connection. Freelance writer and parent Jenna Jonaitis says this aspect was the deciding factor for her during her pregnancy.
“I chose our doula because I felt like she listened to me,” Jonaitis says. “During our initial conversation, she wanted to hear about me, my partner and our future baby. She validated my feelings. Her spirit was warm and calming—which seemed like exactly what I would want during labor.”
Wade also suggests sharing your birth goals with the doula in order to make sure you’re aligned. “Ask them, ‘What are your feelings about this? What do you teach about this?’ If you have a doula who seems uncomfortable with or is pushing a certain way of birthing, that’s not the doula for you.”
Go with your gut
Interview at least a few doulas and from there, take time to think about which person you want at your birth. This is someone you’ll probably be spending a significant amount of time with, someone who will likely see you naked and vulnerable, crying and emotional—so you should fully trust and feel comfortable with them.
Ultimately, says Wade, trust your intuition.
“The doula should make you feel safe. They should make you feel like you’re not being judged,” Wade says. “They should make you feel like they’re ready to support you in any kind of way, no matter what you want to do or what may happen during your birth.”
And Jonaitis says it’s important to remember that this person will be there on one of the most challenging and momentous days of your life.
“Choose someone you feel connected with, someone you’ll want in your memories of your birth story,” Jonaitis says. “I treasure the experience we had with Sarah. She was by our sides through it all. We will never ever forget her.”