Guest Blog Post By Sara Pixton, Owner/Founder of Summit Birth Utah Doula Agency
Maybe your neighbor just told you about her birth and how she had a doula there to support her through it. Maybe you’ve been following some doulas on Instagram and wondering what doula support is all about. Maybe you’ve never heard of a doula before! If you’re in any of these situations—or anywhere in between—you’ve come to the right place to learn more about what doulas do and why you might want to think about hiring one as part of your birth team!
What Is a Doula?
A few months before I started my training to become a doula, I had never even heard of one! I knew about OBs as the most common care provider during pregnancy and birth in the U.S. I had heard about midwives who worked in hospitals, in birth centers, and at home births. I knew about Labor and Delivery nurses in the hospital, but I just hadn’t thought much more about who else might be part of my birth team. Then my neighbor told me about her recent birth experience and how much she loved her doula and how she felt she was instrumental in having a positive birth experience.
Through the transformative, empowering experience of giving birth to my son, I was bitten by the birth bug. When my son was just a few months old, I started my training to become a doula, and I attended my first birth as a doula shortly after his first birthday—about a year after I had first heard about the existence of doulas!
So, if you’re like me before my neighbor shared her experience, you may be wondering… what is a doula? What makes a doula different from an OB, midwife, or nurse? Why would you want one on your birth team?
First let’s make something clear: a doula isn’t a medical provider. As a birth doula, I often have acquaintances who know a little bit about my work assume that I’m the one catching babies, listening to fetal heart tones, and doing wellness checks throughout pregnancy. I think they think that doula is synonymous with midwife.
While I love midwives and the work that they do, our roles are very distinct from one another. Doulas are not trained medical professionals. As a doula, it’s outside of my scope of practice to give medical advice, check my client’s cervix, or catch a baby. Those tasks are the midwife or obstetrician’s job.
Sometimes, our society treats pregnancy and birth as if it is a medical condition and procedure. If that was the case, the midwife or doctor, supported by a nurse or birth assistant, would be able to meet all of the needs during a birth.
But birth is so much more than that. It’s a personal, physical, emotional, spiritual, process. It’s a family event. There are so many facets of birth that are ignored if we focus on just the medical aspect of it. Yes, it’s important to have a trained medical care provider looking after your and your baby’s needs throughout pregnancy and birth.
And. If you want your birth to be more than just a one-size-fits-all medical procedure, you’ll want more than just medical professionals on your team.
Doulas step into that space, seeing you as a whole person, not just with medical needs, but also with informational, physical, emotional, and relational needs.
Doulas can be an important part of your birth team, whether you’re planning an unmedicated birth, opting for an epidural, exploring your options, or even planning a cesarean birth.
What Does a Doula Do?
Doula care is customized, based on your unique experiences and goals.
Doulas can help first-time parents find the resources they need to learn about what to expect during the process of labor and birth. We can point our clients toward trustworthy resources when questions come up during pregnancy and birth. During labor, we can give our clients ideas about labor positions that will be most comfortable or best facilitate the process of labor and birth. When unexpected twists and turns arise, we help our clients make informed decisions that they feel confident moving forward with. Doulas also network with other professionals who serve birthing families, so we’re happy to refer you to pelvic floor PTs (like the incredible team at Reborn!), prenatal/infant chiropractors, childbirth educators, therapists, midwives, doctors, lactation consultants, and other professionals that we personally know and trust.
During labor, doulas provide physical support. Did you know that a labor contraction feels much more manageable if someone else is pushing on your sacrum (just above your tailbone) or squeezing your hips during the contraction? Grounding touch—whether that’s a hand on your shoulder, light strokes on your arms, or a foot massage—can also be a form of physical support that doulas offer during labor. If you choose an epidural during your birth, your doula can continue to provide physical support through gentle touch, rubbing out your sore muscles, or helping you change positions (yes, there are several positions you can be in, even with an epidural!)
Doulas also provide emotional support. Birth is an emotionally and physically intense experience. Sometimes, hard or daunting feelings come up—like I don’t know if I can do this or I’m just mentally worn down or I’ve always been told I was too weak for something like this, or even flashbacks to previous abuse or trauma. Doulas hold space for these feelings, validating their reality and offering compassionate companionship.
Lastly, doulas can provide relational support. First and foremost, doulas help partners offer the best possible support during birth. Though many may initially worry that having a doula might minimize a partner’s role in the birth space, doulas actually help to magnify the partner and make the birth experience even more positive for the couple. Doulas help facilitate connection between partners and care for the partner’s needs as well, offering water or snacks and filling in if partners need to take a short break. Some—especially those giving birth in the hospital—also see their doula as a sort of “interpreter,” translating any medical jargon used by staff that they don’t understand. If care providers aren’t being supportive of a client’s preferences, doulas can act as a megaphone, ensuring that our clients’ voices are heard. And sometimes doulas help siblings be a part of a birth. Whatever their role in facilitating relationships between people in the birth space, a doula’s goal is always a positive experience for our clients, and we fill in gaps or smooth out wrinkles to help make that a reality.
How Do I Find a Doula?
Sounds pretty fabulous, right? If you’re ready to add a doula to your birth team, how do you go about finding one?
A simple Google search is a great place to start: “Doulas in (your city or county).” Many doulas have Google Business profiles, so you can read reviews written by past clients. Doulas often have websites where we introduce ourselves, detail our services, and invite you to reach out with questions.
Social media is also a great place to look for a doula! Many doulas are very active on Instagram or TikTok. Following doulas is a good way to get a sense for their personality and approach to their services.
Once you’ve found a few doulas you think you might connect with, reach out to schedule a free consultation. Almost all doulas offer this as a no-strings-attached way to see who you click with. Your doula will be with you during a very personal, intimate time as you birth your baby. Make sure you hire a doula that you feel comfortable with! Take the time to interview as many doulas as you need to until you find the right fit for you.
After you hire your doula, breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that you have someone on your birth team whose sole job is to make sure you have the best experience possible!