What Is a Doula and Do I Need One?
When I tell people I hired a doula for the birth of our sweet little Felix, I typically get a look of confusion and then I am asked, “what is a doula?” The word doula means “a woman who serves” (according to www.dona.org). There are technically two kinds of doulas: birth doulas and postpartum doulas. Birth doulas help women prepare for birth as well as help them achieve the birth experience they want. Postpartum doulas deal mostly with the adjustment period after giving birth and may help with anything from housework to education about issues that come up directly after birth.
So, yes, we hired a (birth) doula for the birth of our son. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Like I said, many people I talked to about this did not know what a doula was and there seem to be a lot of common misconceptions.
Doulas do not deliver babies. Unless, of course, there is an emergency in which she has to. Our doula keeps supplies on hand to do this just in case, but doulas do not typically deliver babies. Most people are probably referring to midwives who provide similar care as an OB, though they are generally believed to be more “natural” in their care.
Just because you hire a doula doesn’t mean you have to have a “natural” birth. Doulas are there to support the mother (and father) before, during, and the hour or two after delivery. A good doula will help a mother achieve the birth she wants, even if it means the mother has a scheduled c-section or plans to have medication during labor.
Doulas do not replace the role of a significant other. However, having a doula ensures that you should never have to be alone during your labor. If you have a long labor, your significant other might need a break to eat, nap, or even go to the bathroom. This may seem unnecessary, seeing as you (the mother) will be going through a lot of pain and probably won’t get to do any of those things, but trust me, your support person will be much more helpful to you if they get to do those things. During my labor, I used a lot of hot rice packs so someone kept having to leave to reheat them. Having both my husband and our doula was super helpful at that point! Doulas do as much as you need them to do, and a good one should know what she is doing, so it is definitely a blessing to have her around, even if you just need her to coach your significant other on what he should be doing.
Doulas are probably a better option than just a friend or family member (in most cases). Sometimes family and/or friends may be a little confused as to why you would hire a doula. Oftentimes, they might even say they can just help you for free. This might sound enticing at first, but think realistically. Is your friend or family member going to get up out of bed and come to your house to help you labor if you call her at 2 in the morning? If you luck out and end up having a 25-hour or more labor, is your friend or family member going to stay with you the entire time? Or do they have other commitments and responsibilities like a job, kids, etc.? Will your friend or family member know alternative ways of coping with labor pain and be able to offer suggestions about pushing positions, etc.? Will your friend or family member know enough about birth to offer you true information about possible complications, procedures offered, and medical interventions? Though many friends and family members might have good intentions, chances are they aren’t going to be able to do all these things for you. But a doula will.
In my opinion, if your OB knows you have a doula, he/she may be less likely to try to talk to you in an unnecessary medical intervention. So not all doctors will try to talk you into unnecessary interventions, but a lot of them tend to do this (at least according to stories I have heard). A good doula knows a great deal about pregnancy and birth and will be able to give you an alternative point of view to help you make a decision. Because a doula is in the picture, a doctor may not be able to get by on just offering medical interventions.
Hiring a doula does not have to be expensive. The cost of a doula definitely depends on your area, but I can tell you that hiring a doula is probably much cheaper than getting an epidural, Pitocin, etc. Depending on your insurance plan, this may or may not save you money. Our insurance plan has an out-of-packet maximum of $3,500. We definitely met that amount even without any drugs or interventions. However, if your insurance plan has a higher out-of-pocket maximum than that and you plan on going au natural, it is possible that you won’t meet the maximum amount, in which case hiring a doula may actually be cheaper. This is one of those things that depends on the plan and the actual situation, but it could be worth looking into!
When I first mentioned hiring a doula at the beginning of my second pregnancy, my husband was definitely skeptical. He didn’t feel it was necessary. I told him we should at least meet with a few doulas to see if it was what we wanted and he finally agreed. (I think most doulas do free consultations). Obviously, we hired one and it worked really well for us. After the birth experience with a doula, my husband now agrees that doulas are the way to go! He says that it was helpful to have someone with experience in labor and coping with labor, because “if I tell my wife it’s almost over, she’s not going to believe me, because how do I know that? I’ve never been through it. But the doula has and she has seen tons of births.”
My thoughts on doulas? I wouldn’t go through another natural birth without one, and I regret that we didn’t hire one with our first birth. We don’t know yet if we will have a third child, but if we do, we will definitely be doing it with a doula!
Here are some links to a few doulas that we know in our area, though I know there are several more. If you know of more doulas in the area, feel free to comment with links to their websites.
Megan Newhouse-Bailey – This is the doula we used, and she was amazing!
The Evansville Birth Network also has lots of information about birth. If you are in need of support regarding a previous C-section or know that you will need to schedule one, check out ICAN of Evansville.