Shopping for a Doula? Here are 6 Steps for Navigating and Maximizing Your Doula Experience

Considering Hiring a Doula?

 

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Maybe you are hearing the word ‘Doula’ for the first time, or have heard it, but are very unfamiliar with a doula’s role or why it is so important to have a doula as part of your birth team.

A doula (a woman standing by) is a labor support person who provides physical, emotional and informational support for families throughout their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum journeys.

Doula care is so much more than just support during your labor and as a first time mom, or a family considering doula care for the first time, it can be a bit difficult to know where to begin in your efforts of finding the right doula for your family’s individual needs, but also maximizing the care-to-cost-to-connection ratio with the doula you choose.

Here are six steps to help you navigate this new territory and maximize the kind of experience you can have in your search for a doula, but also in your birth journey!

 

Step 1: Do you even want or need a doula?

Doulas are hired for all different birth scenarios, and not just an un-medicated, out-of-hospital birth. They are beneficial in any setting and are a perfect compliment to the care provided by a midwife, the continuous support needed in the hospital room, or the calming presence often missing in the surgical room. READ HERE for more information on the differences between a midwife and a doula.

Doing a simple search online for “local doulas” can be a bit overwhelming, depending on where you live! Knowing what kind of services are generally available from a doula, and matching that with what your ideal vision is for your birth, can help you gauge, not only whether you actually want / need a doula, but what services you would like for her to offer. Then you can narrow down your doula search right from the get go!

The advantage to finding doulas in your area who offer the services you are looking for means you don’t have to hire three different individuals for services which could have been available all in one place. Hiring several people for different services adds more people to your contact loop before / after giving birth, which can honestly become a headache during a time when you are simply wanting to snuggle in with your new baby, bond AND sleep! This also creates fluidity and connection throughout your pregnancy, during birth, and into the postpartum period in your relationship with your Doula. They will be able to handle everything while you just focus on your new baby and your growing family!

Doulas provide care in many different areas and also offer an array of additional services which are cohesive to doula care and the support of families. Determining which services are, or might be, important to you, and then searching doulas in your area who offer those specific services can save a lot of time in the interviewing process of finding the right one!

Here is a handful (or two ;-)) of potential service options available to doula families…

  • Informational support throughout pregnancy
  • Antepartum care (need support while on bed rest?)
  • Education on all of the options and decisions to be made from the start of labor to immediately postpartum for both the mother and the baby.
  • Birth plan preparation & guidance
  • Natural childbirth education classes
  • Breastfeeding education, classes, and counseling / support
  • Placenta encapsulation (tincture, mother broth, smoothies, prints, cord keepsakes)
  • Lending library (guidance on book recommendations based on your needs, and then the ability to borrow those books!)
  • Continuous birth support at home, then the hospital or birth center (inclusion of partner, or in place of partner)
  • Advocacy of your birth plan (so you and your partner can focus on laboring)
  • Capturing occasional photo moments (usually non-professional) P.S. there are professional birth photographers!
  • Postpartum care (need support after bringing baby home?)
  • Extended care packages – (informational support through baby’s first year!)

 

Step 2: If so, what is most important about her?

This can sometimes be a difficult question, especially for first time momma’s who really don’t know what their specific needs of a doula may be. I mean, how do you know what you will need from a support person while in labor, when you haven’t experienced labor yet!?

I’ve broken it down into a couple of sections to help you navigate how to answer this question for yourself.

  • Consider your love language
    • Considering your own love language can be helpful in determining, not only the character qualities you are looking for in a doula, but also, the kind of connection you will want to have developed with her before your labor. It is important to know whether she is experienced enough to know how and when to change gears with you, as your labor progresses, and have discernment in when to draw into you for support, and when to draw back and allow you space to find your strength and power.
  • Consider your partner
    • Birth is not just about the laboring woman. All too often, partners end up feeling like the “third wheel,” with the primary focus on the mother and baby. But partners need support too, whether they want to be hands-on in the birth process or not. All couples function as one in a very different rhythm. This means that some partners will want to dive right in and be as much of a supportive part of the action as they can be, or maybe even catch their baby! Others want the freedom to hang back and draw in as they feel comfortable in each moment. Then you have partners who would rather be more of an outside observer (or maybe the birthing mother would rather her partner be an outside observer), if even present within the birth space at all. Knowing how the doula will support your partner in each of these differing scenarios is important to knowing the full extent of her experience and how well she will support your family dynamic and the needs of your partner through each stage of labor.

                   Dads are having a baby too! Many dads come out of their birth experiences feeling:

    • Traumatized, having had no one to communicate with them in terms they could understand (getting away from medical terminology).
    • Scared, having had no one to keep their internal thermostat in check and assured that everything is safe and normal
    • Helpless, not having anyone there to guide them in ways they can help bring comfort and relief to the woman they love.
    • Lack of Joy, as they watched the scene unfold around them, as they tried to protect, be understanding, advocate for the birth plan, process recommendations and make fast decisions. Dads are missing out on the joy of watching and participating in the births of their babies… This is not okay. You can read more about how doulas are for dads too, and how together, they make up the perfect birth team! Dads and Doulas
  • Consider the doula’s energy
    • The heart of doula care is in the connection, and the energy of that connection. You are bringing another energy into your sacred space of birth, and that energy should be welcoming of the unfolding process of birth. You should feel safe and comfortable with her and should feel confident that the advocacy she will provide represents your birth plan, and not her own.
  • Consider the doula’s experience
    • There is simply no price that can be placed on experience in this field. Of course, every good and experienced doula had to start somewhere. The wisdom that comes from their experiences can be a huge benefit to your family in navigating every faucet of this adventure. From the pros and cons of each hospital / birth center within the realm of your birth vision, to recommendations on which care provider / midwife will connect with your family dynamic and be supportive of your wants and desires for your birth experience. In many ways, your experience can be the best reflection of her experiences, as she guides you through medical field protocol. And let’s not forget how important her experience will be to you and your partner once in the throes of labor. What touch will bring relief in this moment? Which essential oil can be emotionally uplifting? Which rebozo technique can get rid of that pesky back labor (or what even is a ‘rebozo’!?)? The list really does go on here.
  • Consider the doula’s character
    • Client testimonials should play a crucial role in defining her real character and the passion she has for her profession and the families she is called into the service of. It is okay to request testimonials, and even ask to speak with a few previous clients about their experiences. Most doulas will know right away who would be willing to speak with you and share about that personal experience receiving their support. Ensuring that she is reliable, trustworthy, knowledgeable, but also, that working in this field is not just a “job” to them! All professions become “businesses / jobs” at some point. I mean we all have to make a living to support our families. But, that doesn’t mean that a business / job can’t still be full of heart! If the philosophy is “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business,” then the heart of this profession, for that doula, has been misplaced.
    • Also, consulting with your chosen care provider on whether they have had any experience working with your Doula. Was it a positive experience and would they welcome their presence back into the labor and delivery room?

 

Step 3: Know what you’re paying for! 

When first searching for a doula, they are often compared first by their rates. This is a great disservice to the doulas being compared, as well as to the families seeking care. The doula who charges $1000 (20+ years’ experience), and the doula who charges $350 (who just finished a weekend training workshop and has completed the three free births she is supposed to attend to receive her certification), should not be compared by their rates. They should be compared by what the family’s needs are for their pregnancy and birth journey, and how the doula can meet those needs to the best of their ability. The rate has nothing to do with their compatibility to the family seeking care. Hey, every doula has to start somewhere to earn the “experienced” title. While cost and experience are important, they may not be as important as the connection you share once it comes time for your birth.

Also, be mindful that the rate the doula is charging does reflect her level of experience. If the average experienced doula rate in your area is between $800 – $1000, a new doula, with less than 10 births in her experience bag, shouldn’t yet be charging between that average bracket.

Be kind, and don’t schedule an interview, on the doula’s time, unless you are willing to work out a way to pay for her services. Show your potential doula that you value her time, her profession, the services she offers, her experience, and the benefits she can bring to your pregnancy and birth journey. Most doulas who are in this profession for the heart of it are willing to work with expectant families on payment plans to ensure that every family, regardless of circumstance, can receive the care and support they need, while also establishing a mutual agreement assuring that the doula herself is compensated for her invaluable time and support. If hired early in the pregnancy, a family can have 6 months or more, depending on arrangements made with the doula, to pay for the services. Hiring earlier is often better, and also offers more time for connection and more opportunities for your doula to provide pregnancy and informational support.

I have often heard that having a doula is a “luxury”… which is such an unfathomable concept to me. When did we get so far out of reach with what the act of giving birth really is, that having a person support the mother through the most challenging experience of her life is considered a “luxury” ??? Shouldn’t it be “common place” to expect her to be supported in the best way possible? Isn’t she deserving of that? Isn’t her partner deserving of enjoying the birth process, rather than having to stand there terrified and feeling helpless? How do we even get to a place where we can put a price or a value on something this important?

Dr. John H. Kennell has been quoted, “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.”

Doulas are not a “Luxury.” Doulas are a “Necessity.”

For a generalized breakdown of what a doula really makes after expenses such as gas, food, taxes, supplies, childcare, etc., you can check out this article, A Breakdown of a Doula’s Fees and Why Doula’s Charge What They Do.

 

Step 4: Trust her to teach you

Over the years it has become apparent that the value in taking a childbirth preparation course has been forgotten. Birth is a joyous rite of passage that a woman takes. It’s a transforming journey from maiden to mother. Taking a course which provides knowledge on the anatomy and stages of birth, preparing the mind-body-spirit for the journey ahead, options & decision, natural coping techniques, and partner engaging (just to name a few…),  reduces the fear surrounding birth in our society today and builds confidence in a woman’s ability and power to give birth, and also achieve the joy and satisfaction that can be found in the hard work that it takes to bring forth new life.

We wouldn’t set out on a voyage around the world by boat without first taking some courses on what to expect on the open waters, how to navigate the boat, what to do during a storm, and know what supplies you may need and recognize how and when to use them. Birth is the greatest and most incredible and unpredictable voyage a couple will ever embark on. Going in blind fuels fear of the unknown and leaves more space for unnecessary interventions to interrupt the safety of the birth process. Knowledge is power!

Look into starting a childbirth class between 20 and 30 weeks gestation. There are so many benefits to completing your course at least 6 weeks prior to your EDD. This allows time for the information to be absorbed. It also gives extra time to account for any potential classes which may need to be pushed out a week or two, should your doula be supporting a birthing family during a regularly scheduled class session, and you still complete the course before the arrival of your baby!

If your Doula teaches a childbirth education class, take her class. You are getting many additional hours with your doula to connect over the birth process. This builds confidence for both mom and her partner in their trust relationship with their doula, it builds a stronger connection, it means that the couple and the doula speak the same “birth language,” and the couple themselves have a much greater understanding of their doula’s vast knowledge base surrounding the unfolding of the birth process. Be sure the class you choose supports how you want to birth and includes education around the stages of birth, coping techniques, as well as partner engagement and preparing the mind, body, and spirit for the journey ahead.

If this isn’t your first birth, but it will be your first birth accompanied by doula support, taking your doula’s childbirth class can bring a refreshing of the soul and even help you bring your vision for this birth to the forefront.

 

Step 5: Pick 3

Meeting with several doulas means a better chance of finding the perfect doula for your family! So pick 3 doulas who match your criteria from above and schedule interviews.

Doulas offer a ‘free consultation’ to get acquainted. This ‘double interview’ time allows for both the expectant family and the doula to interview one another to see whether they are a right fit.

It is important to see if there is a connection and positive energy, and give you a chance to get a sense of whether you would feel “safe” and “comfortable” to birth with them by your side. Ask questions you have about their profession, business, character, experience, rates, etc.

The doula also needs to ‘interview’ the expectant family to determine whether they feel that they are the right support person to meet your family’s individual needs and vision for your birth experience. Whether they feel comfortable with both the mother and her partner, as well as the chosen care provider and birthing location is important to the kind of care and attention she can devote to that family. Checking in with your care provider and knowing that they are in favor of you having a support person present, and whether they have any doulas they are not comfortable working with. After all, you don’t want to be caught between your doula and care provider! So make sure that the doula you choose feels comfortable not only with your birth setting and provider team, but that your care provider team also respects your doula.

Your doula should be interested in what your vision is for your ideal birth, and they should desire to support you in striving for that vision, as medically feasible. This is your body, your baby, and your birth!

While meeting with 3 is ideal, there are those occasions when you just know right away, in the first interview, that you have found her! … and the feeling is usually mutual! Everything just fits and you know that she is the one that you want to welcome into your birth space, and support you during this miraculous journey!

 

Step 6: Use her!

You now have a support person whose entire profession, expertise, and knowledge base revolves around pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding, newborn care, sleep cycles, etc. Use that resource! Reach out! Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request guidance. This is what they are here for!

Hire early! Repeat hire, early! Hiring before 16 weeks means more pregnancy support and more time to develop a close connection. It also ensures the doula’s schedule doesn’t fill-up without you!

Many doulas offer extended care packages during the postpartum period which gives the family access to the Doula’s educational knowledge base for guidance on sleep issues, teething comfort, sleep pattern guidance, breastfeeding support, referrals to outside resources as a need arises, and so much more, all accessible through baby’s first year of life! This is an incredible blessing, especially for first time parents. This gives continuity of care that doesn’t just end after the baby arrives. Babies don’t come with a manual, and having someone at your fingertips with evidence based information, rather than “forum opinions,” is such a blessing!