Should You Hire a Doula?

The first time I ever heard of a doula was 6 years ago, when a coworker mentioned she was hiring a special labor coach to guide her through the birth of her first child.

“But…isn’t your husband going to be there? Won’t he be your labor coach?”

This couple was the type who had read every book and attended every class and researched every online resource about pregnancy and childbirth and infant care even before they were actively trying for a baby. I figured they were experts at that point, so what in the world did they need another expert for?

The woman my friend hired turned out to be much more than someone who simply rubbed her back during contractions and held one leg while she pushed. In addition to coaching women through labor and delivery (often specializing in techniques that help those who want unmedicated labors), doulas – Greek for “servants” – are also there to act as advocates for women during hospital stays, to support fathers who need it, and to be experienced guides throughout the L&D process rather than just popping in for sporadic checks the way doctors and nurses do. Unlike midwives, they don’t actually help deliver the baby; their main focus is the experience of the mother.

It’s hard to say what percentage of women hire doulas, since there’s currently no official training, certification, or licensing standards. Basically, anyone can be a doula. What we do know is that in the last 20 years doulas have become exponentially more popular. According to one source, “Between 1994 and 2005, the number of doulas certified by Doulas of North America grew to 5,842, up from 750.”

The thing that impressed me most about my friend’s doula was that she also offered in-home “mother’s helper” support after the baby was born, which was hugely important since my friend’s husband had to go right back to work and neither of them had any family in town for the first few weeks. During that time, the doula helped the first-time parents adjust to caring for a newborn but she also did laundry, cooked meals and watched the baby so my friend could nap. (Basically the things I was lucky to have my husband and mom help me with after I had my son.) It came as no surprise when my friend got pregnant again that she hired another doula for the birth of her second daughter.

Are you hiring a doula? Or are you counting on your partner/mom/sister/friend to be your labor coach and “mother’s helper” (for free!)?