What to Look For in a Doula: An Insider’s List

Comfortable

The absolute, #1, most important thing to consider when hiring a doula is how comfortable you are with that person. Your doula will may see you at your most vulnerable and the doula/client relationship can be a very intimate one. Listen to your intuition and choose a doula that you feel you can be yourself with and open up to.

Flexible

Look for a doula that makes adjustments to her “normal” routine when you ask her to. That may mean a doula who lets you have an extra prenatal meeting, works on a sliding scale, or is open to meeting you at a different location than is typical for her. Birth is unpredictable and flexibility is an important quality in a doula.

Supportive

It kind of goes without saying, but hire a doula who is passionate about getting to know you and supporting your needs. Choose a doula with a positive attitude who makes you feel like she cares.  Ask your doula how many prenatal and postpartum visits are included in her package. You deserve to get to know your doula before your birth and to have adequate follow up afterwards.

Reliable

Know how many other clients your doula is working with that have guess due dates near yours. A doula should do everything within her power to make every client’s birth. Choose a doula who limits the number of clients that they take in a given month and doesn’t take clients whose guess dates are the same or close together. Also, make sure the doula you choose always has a back up doula on call, in case she has a car accident or the flu. Ask each doula you interview how many clients’ births she has missed and what she does to reduce the chances that she will miss yours. (It is still possible for a doula to have two clients in labor at the same time, even if she limits the number of births she attends in a month and spaces out her clients’ guess dates, but it is a lot less likely).

Beneficial

Ask your doula for references and ask those past clients whether that doula was beneficial to her. A doula can’t control the outcome of a birth and her outcomes will vary depending on the populations she serves, but you can ask your doula for her birth statistics. How many of her past clients have had unplanned interventions of different kinds? How many of them that wanted to have successfully breastfed? How many developed postpartum depression? Then, ask to speak to the doula’s past clients whose births did not go as they had expected or hoped. If those past clients give your doula a great review, that really says a lot.

Responsive

Choose a doula that is responsive to calls and emails and answers your questions thoroughly and without judgment. Choose a doula that follows your lead? Ask your doula if she attends moms in early labor or if she rests in early labor and then comes when labor picks up. Different women respond differently to labor. Some women want to relax at home in early labor, while others may want a doula’s presence. I recommend choosing a doula who would come whenever she was asked to by the mother or family and is willing to rest at your home in early labor if that would make you feel more comfortable.

Open-Minded

Look for a doula whose first commitment is to be an advocate for your preferences, not her own. As a doula, it is our job to make sure our clients are informed about each choice they make, but also empower them to make those choices, even if our own choice for our own birth might be different.

Comprehensive

If there are other types of care that you are considering during pregnancy, labor or postpartum, consider if your doula provides those services or can easily give you a good reference to someone who does. Many doulas offer many other services including prenatal yoga and massage, childbirth education classes, postpartum doula services, placenta encapsulation, lactation education, and so much more. Continuity of care can be a nice thing and another way for you and your doula to get to know each other before your birth. Look for a doula whose care begins on the day you hire her and does not abruptly end after your baby is born.

Experience

There is a wide variety of experience between doulas. Some certified doulas have attended 3 births and others have attended hundreds. It is a good idea to consider the level of experience of the doulas that you interview. But, remember that education with birth is exponential. For each birth a doula has attended, she learns so much. It is easy to consider 1 birth and 3 births to be the same experience level, but it is likely that the doula who has witnessed 3 births has significantly more experience. On the other hand, the difference between a doula with 200 births and 250 births is likely minimal. Also, be sure to take into account each doula’s experience with different ages, health conditions, birth preferences, and outcomes. Two doulas who have each attended 20 births may have a very different level of experience if one has mostly only attended hospital births with mid-30s married women without medical interventions, while the other has attended births in a variety of settings with a diverse group of moms that had a variety of outcomes.

TRY NOT TO CHOOSE A DOULA BASED ON:

Her own birth experience

Do not rule out a doula who has not given birth herself or who had a traumatic birth or jump right to a doula whose own birth experience sounds like what you are craving.

Price

Most doulas will work on a sliding scale based on a client’s ability to pay or make referrals to lower cost doulas for families who want a doula but can’t afford her services. Everyone who wants a doula should have one and no one should have to mortgage their baby’s future for good quality care. Certainly price is a consideration when hiring a doula, but do not rule out interviewing a doula based upon her price alone. Have a budget in mind, be open about your financial situation, and ask for payment plans, barter, a reduced rate or a referral.

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