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If you’re involved in the birth community like I am, then you likely know that last week was World Doula Week! And even if you’re not a Washington DC birth photographer like I am, you may have seen posts in your social media feed with #worlddoulaweek. I know many of my clients go through the process of hiring either a birth doula or postpartum doula or both so I have (finally!) put together a resource to help with how to hire a doula. This post has been on my blogging to-do list for so long that I apparently needed World Doula Week to push me to write and post this.

What is a birth doula?

I had never heard the term “doula” until one of my friends had their first child, but I had no idea what a doula actually is and what her role is during birth. I didn’t think to ask my friend then :) I didn’t hear the term again until I was pregnant myself and started learning more about the labor and delivery process.

Ursula, who was my birth class instructor when I was pregnant with my first and is also a doula, describes a birth doula as “an integral part of any birth team.”

“A doula provides physical, emotional and informational support to the laboring mother and her partner throughout pregnancy, labor and the immediate postpartum period. She supports the family both at home and at their birth place. Doulas support natural births and medically managed births, including cesareans. They are present to support the family and respect and honor the boundaries of the family and their birth wishes. 

Doulas can also help the family to understand their birth options and help them to work through good decision-making. Through experience and training, a doula knows what questions to ask and can translate medical jargon into common language. She can remind the family of questions to ask and requests to make.

A doula’s presence and support should create a sense of calm around the mother in labor during one of the most important times in her life.”

We didn’t hire a doula for my first labor, and I feel lucky that between my husband and my midwife, who was able to stay with me for most of my labor, I didn’t need the additional support. But I knew that the presence of my midwife during labor was an unusual occurrence (I was the only client in labor that night), and when I was pregnant with our second baby boy, I felt strongly about knowing for certain that I had all of the labor support that I would need by my side the entire time. I didn’t want to take a chance again and knew I wanted the extra help in case I had back labor again (which I did… My babies are stinkers.).

washington dc birth photographer | stefanie harrington | hiring a birth doula

Everyone’s pregnancy, expectation and birth experience is different, so I encourage you to decide what’s best for you. Some women don’t need the additional labor companion, others (like me) need more encouragement and support. I needed to lean on the confidence and experience of my midwife and doula to tell me that I could birth my baby.

Questions to ask when hiring a birth doula

If you’re not sure what you should know when hiring a doula, I liked the questions that these organizations and sites have to offer:

  • DONA (this list distinguishes between things to ask a birth vs postpartum doula, which is helpful)
  • Baby Center
  • The Bump

Asking if a doula gets along with a health caregiver, like Baby Center suggests doing, is a wise suggestion. I wouldn’t want any weird tension or feelings in the room while giving birth. Labor and delivery have a mental component in addition to the physical one so it’s important to surround yourself with people you trust and who work well together.

The Bump also suggests checking references and asking what types of unique situations a doula has dealt with, both of which are important to know.

I have to admit that it took some convincing of my husband to hire a doula for my second labor and delivery. He was concerned with how that would impact his role as my labor support. I think it’s a valid concern so don’t be shy and be open about his concerns. We interviewed a few different doulas with our endless wonderful list of questions in mind. Ursula told us right away that she would be out of town close to my due date. Since I didn’t want to take the chance with a back up doula right off the bat, we found Odile, whose presence we loved. 

I think it’s really important to ask a lot of questions, feel comfortable with the answers and also consider how the doula’s personality fits with your own personality. Your doula will likely be with you for several hours :) Consider how you’ll feel around her, what type of support she’ll offer, how she’ll interact with your health caregiver and your spouse/partner. Both my husband and I felt comfortable with Odile as soon as she walked through our door to interview with us. 

How to find a doula

If you’re taking any sort of birth class, your instructor will likely have recommendations for you. It may be the case, like in ours, that your instructor is also a doula. I also asked around in my circle of friends and interviewed those doulas if they were available around my due date. As it was, we hired a doula who hadn’t worked with our friends but who we thought would be a great fit for us.

If you’re local to the DC area, Birth Options Alliance has a listing of birth and postpartum doulas in the area. 

Other resources for finding a doula:

What is a postpartum doula?

While we didn’t hire a postpartum doula with either of our children, I can only imagine how incredibly helpful this would be to parents caught up in the sleep deprivation phase. I was so tired that I couldn’t figure out how to open the shower door one day (embarrassing but true). Our birth doula, Odile, who frequently supports parents during this time, says:

“A postpartum doula’s goal is to ease childbirth recovery and transition to parenthood by providing professional care for the new parents during this special time. A postpartum doula provides a supportive, non-judgmental and respectful approach to parenting. She is specialized in:

Providing breastfeeding support
Assisting with newborn care
Guiding new parents in learning their baby’s cues for hunger, sleep, etc.
Preparing nutritious meals and snacks
Performing light housekeeping tasks
Daytime and nighttime support”

I hope that this a helpful resource to you if you’re thinking about hiring a doula. I know that preparing for labor and childbirth can be overwhelming. If you have more questions about what working with a doula is like, feel free to reach out to me! I’m always happy to talk about my own labor and birth experiences.