What is a Doula?

Doulas are trained to provide emotional and physical support before, during and after labor.

[Read more: Early Signs of Labor]

 A little extra support…goes a long way! Here are points to consider to help you decide if hiring a doula is right for you.

What Exactly Does a Doula Do?

Birth doulas are sometimes called “labor coaches,” but they’re so much more than that. They’re trained to support mothers during labor, but their work often starts weeks or months before. That’s because they can help you think through your birth plan. On the big day, one of their top responsibilities is to help you meet the goals laid out in your plan and be supportive and encouraging if your plan needs to change.

Unlike doctors and midwives, who will attend to all the important medical aspects of birth, doulas can’t make medical decisions for you. Pregnant women hire a birth doula for their general support. 

Sachiko T., for example, hired a doula for extra help: “My husband has an aversion to blood, and I was worried he might pass out. In the event that happened, I needed to make sure someone was there for me.”

Sachiko’s husband Jason did just fine. He stayed standing(!)—and supportive—all the way through to welcoming their new baby girl. But Sachiko was still glad she hired a doula. Mostly, because labor is…long! The doula took turns with Jason putting strong pressure on her back during hours of contractions, which was a great help in easing her pain.

That said, it’s a good idea to tell your doctor in advance that you’ll have a doula attending the birth. You always want a positive relationship between your doula and your doctor—things go the best when everyone is on the same team…“Team You!”

Here’s the great news: Studies show that doula-assisted labors tend to be shorter, with fewer complications and lower rates of c-section and other interventions. Women who are assisted by doulas report being happier with their births, even though it is an extra expense that isn’t typically covered by insurance providers.

Cost aside, some expecting parents hesitate to bring a doula on to their team because they prefer a more intimate experience—they only want close family in the delivery room on this very special day.

Are doulas expensive?

The cost of hiring a doula tend to range from around $600 to $3,200, with the average cost of a doula falling around $1,200. It’s important to note that some doulas charge by the hour and others by a flat fee, so keep that in mind if you start searching for a doula for yourself. 

The typical expectations and responsibilities of a doula are to be present during prenatal visits, during labor and delivery, and finally for the post-labor visit. Obviously, these costs can add up if you’re paying hourly, which is something to take into consideration.

What is the difference between a doula and a midwife?

Although both a doula and a midwife offer childbirth services, the services they offer are quite different. Midwives have medical training and focus heavily on helping you deliver a healthy baby. Whereas a doula, focuses on the mental, physical, and emotional needs of the mother. 

What About Hiring a Postpartum Doula?

Doulas also assist after the baby is born. A postpartum doula can support you at home, by helping you learn to feed, bathe and soothe the baby and by doing housekeeping and errands. This can really help a first-time mom gain confidence in breastfeeding and caring for their newborn.

For example, a mom named Page really wanted to succeed in breastfeeding, so she sought out a doula who was a trained lactation consultant.

“I can’t even tell you how great my doula was. In the hospital, the nurses were trying to help me, but every time a new nurse came on shift, I’d get different breastfeeding advice. I was totally confused on how to latch, my nipples were sore and I was getting scared I wouldn’t be able to do it," said Page.

Within two days of working one-on-one with her doula, she gained complete confidence in her ability to breastfeed. The doula also walked the dog and helped her organize her nursery.

Some new moms hire a doula for around-the-clock support for a few weeks, others for just a few hours a day for a few days following the birth. If you decide you want a doula, I suggest wrapping up interviews by the end of your fifth month of pregnancy. You want to have time to form a relationship with your doula…and have your team in place should your little one arrive earlier than planned! (Learn more about how a postpartum doula can help you.)

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.