Doula 101: Everything You Need To Know About Perinatal Support

If you’re a parent in 2022, chances are you’ve heard about doulas. Maybe you even have a loose idea of what a doula does…helps people during birth, right? Well…yes, but there’s a more to it than that! Although the word has gotten out about these supportive professionals, there’s still a lot to understand about doulas and why you might want to work with one for your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. 

In honor of International Doula Month, we’re sharing all the info you need about doulas, what they do, and what to consider when hiring one (and we should know—because we’re postpartum doulas!)

What is a Doula?

A doula is a trained, non-medical support person who provides mental, physical, emotional, and informational support to people and families during the perinatal period. That means during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. 

Throughout most of human history, new parents had a community of family, friends, and others around when they welcomed a new child. These days, that’s not the norm, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic—not only are people more isolated, but they live further from their families and are busier in general. That makes support during the huge life transition of new parenthood significantly harder to come by. Enter doulas!

One important thing to know about doulas is that they are non-medical professionals. Unlike your doctor or midwife, a doula is not a clinical care provider and does not administer medical care of any kind. 

Doulas are community care providers, coaches, resources, information-gatherers, listening ears, friends, and confidantes. Doula care includes compassionate witnessing (what some people call “holding space”), companionship, relationship-building, and advocacy. It also involves a lot a practical, hands-on support—like helping you write your birth preferences or set up your breast pump.

Doulas are trained and certified by independent organizations—there is currently no national regulation of doulas. Increasingly, individual states here in the US are working with doulas to ensure that they can be reimbursed for their services by health insurance, including Medicaid. But still, the majority of parents pay for doulas out-of-pocket (which means they can be difficult to access for many families). 

Types of Doulas 

Birth Doulas

The most well-known type of doula working today, birth doulas provide continuous support to people during labor and birth.  There is significant research on the benefits of birth doulas, including a lower chance of Cesarean birth, a shorter labor, even a lower chance of having a baby admitted to the NICU.

Birth doulas help you plan and prepare for your birth and postpartum experience, as well as provide support during labor (like comfort measures). A birth doula is a little like a trained friend who happens to know a LOT about childbirth. Unlike doctors, nurses, and midwives, doulas don’t change shifts, so they are there with you for the entirety of your birth experience—this is called continuous support (and it’s what a lot of the great outcomes research has found are associated with). 

Birth doulas work in all settings— in the hospital, at a birth center, or at home. Most birth doulas offer packages that include prenatal meetings, birth support during labor (or during a planned Cesarean birth) and postpartum meetings. 

Postpartum Doulas

Postpartum doulas specialize in the fourth trimester, or the first three months after birth. They have special training in lactation and baby care, but their focus is on helping the parent recover from birth and adjust to parenthood. You can think of a postpartum doula a little like a personal postpartum coach, there to help and cheer you on in the time directly after birth. 

Postpartum doulas work in your home or virtually. Most postpartum doulas work on an hourly basis or offer packages that include a set number of hours. 

Loss Doula

Doulas who support people through experiences of pregnancy loss, including miscarriage and stillbirth. They may be present in medical settings, provide advice for self-care, or come to your home. Many of them accept payment by donation. 

Other types of doulas

There are other types of doulas, too! Fertility doulas, adoption doulas, abortion doulas, gender transition doulas, death doulas. If you are going through a transition that involves an embodied experience, there might be a doula out there for you. Another well-known type of doula is a full-spectrum doula, who provides support through all types of pregnancy outcomes, from loss to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and beyond. 

How to Choose a Doula

Let’s set one thing straight, since there are still many cultural misconceptions about doulas and the care they provide: Doulas are for all kinds of parents. No matter your personality, goals, preferences, or situation, there is a doula who will be a great match for you.  Many people assume doulas are for people who want to birth without medication, only for parents who breastfeed, only for families with means…the list goes on. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Whatever your vibe, there’s a doula out there for you.

To find the best doula for you, we suggest asking for referrals from family and friends. Local parenting groups can also be a great place to find who is working in your area. Ditto for DoulaMatch, a website where you can easily search for doulas in your city. Once you’ve found a few you like (and you’ve done a deep dive on their website and socials, of course!) set up a few interviews. When interviewing a doula, you may want to consider aspects like training, experience, services offered, price, specific cultural or religious identities you may have, and more. More than anything, you should like and trust the doula you choose. You should be able to chat easily with them and a feel an overall good vibe. 

Traditionally, families have worked with doulas in person. But since the COVID-19 pandemic shook up well, everything, virtual doula care has also become a great way to access this kind of expert support. FaceTime, Zoom, text—you can connect with the right doula for you anytime, anywhere. 

Here at Major Care, we’ve perfected the art of virtual postpartum care, providing support to new families from our free day-by-day postpartum app, My Fourth, as well as our uber easy text-a-postpartum-doula service. If you’d like to get instant access to a doula for all of your questions about life after birth (from bleeding and birth recovery to feeding and baby life), download our app and use the code ERGO25 for 25% off one month of our text-with-a-doula plan.

Your Doula Journey

Doulas are about support—about being there for you so you can birth and parent in the way that feels right. Doulas are about seeing you as a whole person, meeting you where you are, and helping you thrive in your new identity.  We feel sure that having a doula as part of your team is going to be great for you and your family. 

Major Care is a doula-led maternal health company on a mission to tackle America’s postpartum care gap. We blend the power of guided learning with the support of virtual postpartum experts to create a safer and more supported experience for parents while addressing a $14B+ problem for providers, employers and payers. Our free My Fourth app blends self-guided learning with virtual care. It includes a postpartum prep toolkit and six full weeks of daily guides to life after birth, with videos and content covering physical recovery, emotional health, lactation, relationships, and baby care. The app also offers plans for texting and video sessions with a diverse team of on-call doulas and lactation experts.