What Does a Doula Actually…Do?

Recently, I was able to meet up with my brothers for lunch in Boston. It was a beautiful spring day, and amongst the lively conversation, my business came up. We discussed how I was searching for ways to make this a thriving business so that this is the only job I have to do, and still be able to provide for my family. And then, my brother shed light on a fact that I had not thought of:

“What does a doula actually do?”

He told me that he often shares with people what I am doing, but when they dive deeper and ask him questions about it, he is unsure of how to respond. He usually says something like “she does stuff with pregnant ladies and their babies” and the conversation usually dies there.

Well, I am certainly glad that this has been brought to my attention. Because if my own brother is unsure of what I do, who else is wondering?

So, here is my best way to describe my role as doula: I provide labor, delivery, and immediate postpartum support for any family who wants it. To delve deeper, I first meet with potential clients for a non-binding, relaxed interview**. Next, I meet with my clients at least twice (but as many times as the mom/couple wants) to better understand their birth wishes. I help them design a birth plan, and explain medical interventions that may arise, and what their options would be in those situations. I touch upon L&D terminology they may hear, so it is not so foreign during a time of high stress and emotion. I educate the family about the birthing process, but do my best not to overwhelm with information. I show them prenatal exercises that may be helpful, and demonstrate comfort measures that may be used during their labor. I really try to get to know the mom/couple so that I may best understand their wishes during this beautiful time.

When it comes time for labor, I am on-call and ready to go any time of the night or day (just ask ANY of my clients 🙂 ). I come to the hospital, birthing center, home, or wherever you have decided to labor and provide continuous support throughout. When desired, I do everything possible to get the partner involved in mom’s care. I demonstrate what the partner can do to help, and then take a back-seat and allow them to enjoy the experience together. My support throughout labor takes on many forms. Some that come to mind are relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, making sure mom and partner remain hydrated, coaching helpful movement, providing massage and/or reflexology, and understanding when, and coaching how, to change labor positions. When necessary, I also facilitate communication between the family and medical staff. I will never speak for you, but rather make sure you understand the information being presented to you, and refer you back to your birth wishes during times of high emotion.

PWP Photography by Fiona Johnson

PWP Photography by Fiona Johnson

When it is time to push, I take on whatever role the couple wants. Those roles include (but are not limited to): leg holder, coach, counter, encourager, hand holder, gentle touch provider, hydration coach, photographer (though quite amateur!), re-focus-er, masseuse, breathing control, reinforcement for a tired partner, mirror holder, cold towel dabber, intervention explainer, and, on rare occasions, placenta courier…really ANYTHING the couple wants or needs I will do.

PWP, Photography by Tiffany Farley

PWP, Photography by Tiffany Farley

My care does not stop here. After delivery, if mom and baby for any reason need to be separated (emergency or routine), it has been my observation that her partner stays with the baby. Well, after delivery mom still has work to do. I stay by her side, and support her through fundal massage and placenta delivery. In the rare transfer of baby to NICU, I stay with the family as long as they want, support breast milk expulsion when desired, and help the family communicate with medical providers. When mom and baby are not separated, and the Magical Hour can be observed, I often become photographer to capture tender moments between mom, baby, and partner. If desired, I also facilitate breastfeeding support to help embark on a positive breastfeeding journey. I usually stay up to an hour after birth, but I take my cues from the family on when to exit so they can bond together, uninterrupted.

People often assume that I only work with women who desire to have natural home births. This is simply not true (although women should know their amazing bodies are certainly capable of this feat). If pain medication or medical interventions are desired, that is perfectly fine. I adapt my care to the desires of the family. My main goal is that the family has a positive birth experience, however that may be.

I hope this entry has shed some light on what I consider my role as the doula to be. I also hope dads and partners understand that my role in no way diminishes theirs, if anything I strive to get you more involved. Below are some tidbits from clinical studies from the DONA International website for people who choose to work with doulas. If you have any more questions, please post them below and I will be happy to answer them <3

Information from DONA International

Information from DONA International

**It is EXTREMELY important for the doula you chose to be a match so you can feel comfortable with the whole experience. If I am not the doula for you, I can provide you with a list of referrals, with no hard feelings at all.

4 thoughts on “What Does a Doula Actually…Do?

  1. Pingback: Mom + Baby // Why You Should Hire a Doula - Lauren McBride

    1. maryc Post author

      Hi Jennifer! There are tools such as doulamatch.com, and a google search of doulas in your area, but I think the best way to find a doula is to ask around. Once you do find some matches, interview a few to see who is the best match for you. Good luck in your search!


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