Many expectant parents are now engaging a doula as childbirth approaches. This can be a great choice, especially for first-time mothers or those without local family support. So, what’s a doula?

Doulas are coaches

A doula is a professionally trained birth coach. Most doulas are women who have given birth themselves and have also attended many more births to gain experience. They have usually completed a training course and obtained a certification through a private organization such as DONA. A doula focuses on supporting you as your birth approaches, during labor and while bringing your baby into the world. Some doulas also specialize in postpartum care to help new parents bond with their newborn. Doulas are often familiar with your local hospitals, obstetricians or midwifes, and can advocate on your behalf.

Doulas are not medical professionals, such as obstetricians or midwifes. They are not trained to deliver a baby but they can often improve communication between you, your partner and the healthcare providers. The services provided by doulas are rarely covered by health insurance, but it never hurts to ask your carrier. Fortunately, the professional fees doulas charge range widely depending on their experience and location, so it is usually possible to find someone within your budget.

A doula’s personal perspective

I spoke with my friend Stephanie Heintzeler, a Brooklyn-based doula and lactation consultant who used to work for many years as a midwife at hospitals in Munich, Germany. Stephanie is also the founder of a doula concierge service, connecting clients and pre-screened doulas in the New York metropolitan area.

I asked Stephanie what inspires her about working as a doula here in New York. She loves having time for her clients because local hospitals are often too busy to provide loving care. Women are not usually admitted until they are in “active” labor. This means they often have already labored alone at home for some twelve hours. This can be quite scary for first-time mothers. They don’t know how to handle contractions, when to go to the hospital, what to expect when they get there, etc. This can really throw off the birthing process. Stephanie works with many families from Europe. She can often bridge the gap between different philosophies and standard approaches at New York hospitals.

Stephanie remembers quite a few instances where she was able to make a positive difference for the mother-to-be. Last year, a second-time mother had a pretty fast birth. She rushed her to the hospital where the staff was not responsive, and Stephanie ended up catching the baby! She also recently noticed that an unborn baby was in distress when she looked at the baby monitor. The hospital staff didn’t respond, so she placed her client in a more appropriate position for the baby’s heart rate and sent the father out to get the obstetrics team. A healthy baby was born by emergency Cesarian. Stephanie has also successfully supported several women attempting a vaginal birth after a previous Cesarian, a process that can be fraught with risks so that many obstetricians will advise against it and schedule another Cesarian.

How to find a doula

Stephanie had several tips for how a woman (and her partner) can go about choosing a doula. It makes sense to ask around for personal recommendations. Several organizations also list doulas who have completed their training. Many doulas have their own websites. You should also call to speak with your potential doula and schedule a meeting with the ones you’re seriously considering. Ask specific questions about their education, experience and philosophy. You may want to ask them for references. Both you and your partner should meet the doula before you decide. You should both like and trust her. Once you hire a doula you will sign an agreement with each other confirming that your doula will be on call for you around your due date and specify what else is included in the service package.

I hope this gives you a sense of what a doula can do for you and how to get started finding someone you want to work with. Doulas are quite popular, so don’t wait until the last minute.

© 2023 Christiane Siebert