Should You Hire a Doula?

What Does a Doula Do? : A woman squats down behind a pregnant woman and touches her back

Verywell / Alison Czinkota

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Meghan Markle, Jessica Alba, and Alicia Keys are just a few of the high-profile moms who’ve hired a doula to help them through their birthing experience. But doulas aren’t just for A-listers. A growing number of people are including doulas in their support team when they welcome their little one into the world. 

Despite the celebrity endorsements in recent years, doulas are far from a new phenomenon. In fact, all ancient societies had their own version of a doula—typically a person who already had their own children and would support other pregnant individuals during labor. 

If you’re thinking about hiring a doula, here’s the lowdown from those who know exactly what’s involved. 

What Do Doulas Do?

If the midwife or OB/GYN is the baby catcher, the doula is the birth champion. “Doulas provide educational, emotional, and physical perinatal support,” says birth and postpartum doula Monique Cowan, who is based in LA County. 

A midwife or OB/GYN takes care of all the medical things a delivering parent needs during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period, including taking blood samples and checking vitals. A doula educates them on the physiology of birth, pain management during labor, and how to ensure labor goes as smoothly as possible. 

"Doulas help you understand the birth process, different interventions, your rights as a patient, and evidence-based practices," says Brookyln-based birth and postpartum doula Michela Crowley. "They serve as an advocate for you in the birth space and often interpret medical lingo so that you understand what is happening and can truly give informed consent."

Although their roles are different, midwives, OB/GYNs, and doulas are trained professionals.  Many people hire a doula in addition to a medical provider to support them through labor.

Benefits of Using a Doula

There are numerous benefits to hiring a doula. Isolation and overwhelm are huge issues for parents, so one of the biggest benefits of using a doula is companionship and support.

"Having a person who is not only unbiased, but is trained and has experience with clients who have had the same feelings, the same mishaps, the same confusion, and the same self-doubt can make parenting feel a lot less lonely," says Cowan. "Sometimes all you need is to have someone as a sounding board—a person who can tell you that you are normal and that you are doing a great job."

Cowan believes that advocacy is another huge benefit, although some doula organizations believe advocacy is out of a doula's scope. "Being able to remind staff and sometimes even extended family of the wishes of the mom while she is in the throes of labor can make the biggest difference in the atmosphere of the birthing room, which can ultimately impact birth outcomes," Cowan explains.

Michela Crowley

One moment your doula may be massaging your shoulders or providing counter pressure to help you physically cope with discomfort, and the next moment they may be refilling your water bottle and grabbing a snack for your partner.

— Michela Crowley

The benefits of doula care don't stop there. They also provide physical support to the birthing parent to help them find comfort, strength, and confidence during labor, emotional support to the non-birthing parent, and help with breastfeeding and other issues during the postpartum period.

A doula by no means guarantees an intervention-free, "perfect" birth experience, but research shows that having a doula decreases the need for a C-section by 40%, decreases the length of labor, decreases the need for induction and epidural, and increases the likelihood of reporting a positive birth experience.

Crowley points out that every doula experience is different—because every pregnancy and birth is different. But whatever you need, they'll be on it. "One moment your doula may be massaging your shoulders or providing counter pressure to help you physically cope with discomfort, and the next moment they may be refilling your water bottle and grabbing a snack for your partner," Crowley says.

How to Find and Choose a Doula

Picking the right doula can be challenging, and it pays to do your prep. Crowley always encourages parents to think about the birth experience they hope to have before interviewing doulas.

"It’s not necessary to have this vision solidified, but have an idea of what your main goals are, such as a medicated or unmedicated birth, and what you most want out of your birthing experience," she says. "Then once you start interviewing doulas, you will be more able to identify who is the right person to help you get there."

In Crowley's opinion, the most important factor in choosing a doula is choosing someone who you feel you could spend 24 hours with, as the reality of birth is that most of the time you will be alone with your partner and doula. "They will be with you throughout the entirety of your labor and delivery, so feeling a personality match can make the experience feel more comfortable and even fun," Crowley explains.

As a longtime birth and postpartum doula and founder of boober, a marketplace with expert classes and maternal care providers for expectant parents and new families, Jada Shapiro's first tip is to have your initial interview in person or on video chat to get the best sense of the doula’s whole personality, movement style, facial expressions, and vibe.

"In addition to their training, experience, and fee, a sense of connection and 'fit' is really important as you are hiring this person to be with you through a very intimate and intense time of your life," Shapiro says.

Monique Cowan

Sometimes all you need is to have someone as a sounding board; a person who can tell you that you are normal and that you are doing a great job.

— Monique Cowan

During the interview, ask the potential doula questions about how they would react if you were to choose something that is important to you, for instance having a water birth or an epidural. "Watch for an open and non-judgmental reaction," says Shapiro. "If you feel judgment during the interview, that doula is probably not the right person for you."

The cost of hiring a doula varies greatly, usually depending on the doula’s level of experience and your location. "If cost is an issue, you can always look for new doulas who need to gain experience and attend their first few births toward certification at no cost," suggests Crowley. "Once a doula has been to three births, their fee typically begins at under $500, and as experience and skill level increase, so does the fee."

At the higher end, doulas who have attended hundreds of births may charge up to $5,000, and many doulas have additional training and services that increase their fees further.

But if you meet an awesome doula and their price point is out of your reach, you don't have to settle for someone else. "Get your village involved—ask for money to pay for a doula in lieu of a baby shower," says Cowan. Alternatively, your doula may offer different packages, like virtual support.

"For those families that I support who may not be able to pay for a full birth package, I even offer support coaching for partners and family members who will be by their side physically while I cheer them on virtually," says Cowan.

A Word From Verywell

As a specially trained birth and/or postpartum companion, a doula comes with many benefits, including emotional and physical support, advocacy, and one-to-one care. You may be able to find your ideal doula through a referral from a friend or a healthcare provider. You can also search online at organizations like Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA), DoulaMatch.net, and National Black Doulas Association (NBDA).

Originally written by
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.
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3 Sources
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  1. DONA International. What is a doula?.

  2. American Pregnancy Association. Having a doula - What are the benefits?.

  3. Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2017;7:CD003766. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6

Additional Reading
  • Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD003766. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5