In celebration of International Doula Month, here are some tips for how to hire a doula.
1. Determine If You Want To Hire a Birth or Postpartum Doula, or Both
There are two kinds of doulas: birth doulas and postpartum doulas. In a nutshell, birth doulas meet with you prenatally and are on call for you. When you go into labor, your doula can walk you through ideas and provide guidance via the phone for early labor. As labor progresses into active labor, we will meet you either at your home or at your place of birth to labor with you. A doula’s continued presence during labor has been proven to give many benefits such as reduced use of interventions and medications, lower incidence of cesarean section, higher breastfeeding success rates and reduction in postpartum depression.
Postpartum doulas step in once you bring your baby home. We support families in their home with the transition to parenthood (or the addition of another kiddo). Support includes emotional and practical aspects from assistance with nursing, infant care, and organizational tips to being sure Mom and anyone else in the home is fed, gets a chance to nap or shower. One of the biggest parts of my job as a postpartum doula is answering all those questions that arise that grandma doesn’t remember, friends don’t have time to help with, and it’s not quite the thing to call the pediatrician about. That’s where a doula comes in!
2. Ask Around for Recommendations
It goes without saying that not every doula is right for every family, but a good place to start your search is by asking friends, co-workers or even another pregnant mama in the grocery store line. Are you hiring a doula? Did you have a doula? Would you recommend her?
Beyond asking for referrals to doulas from people who have had first hand experiences, you can search online or among doula groups in your community. Almost five years ago, I co-founded Doulas of Rhode Island (DoRI) to create a go-to place for families in Rhode Island to more easily find and access doulas. One of our biggest events is our Meet the Doula Nights which bring expectant families and doulas together to mingle and to learn about what doulas do (here is the educational video with client testimonials that we show at our Meet the Doula Nights). Check out doula groups in your area to see if they offer opportunities to meet many doulas in person at once.
3. Reach Out and Interview Several Doulas
Once you’ve identified several doulas, you can screen them either at a face to face event or over the phone to help you narrow down the handful of doulas you’d like to interview. It’s important to do this interview with both parents present.
Prepare a few questions ahead to start you off, but a doula should also be able to help direct the course of the interview providing you with information on how the whole doula-thing works, what we do (emotional support, comfort measures, household organization) and what doulas do not do (for example, we do not do any clinical or diagnostic tasks, we don’t do house cleaning and we don’t pass judgements or make decisions for you).
There are several websites that offer lists of questions to ask doulas, but don’t get bogged down in just asking questions down the list. Really listen and hear what she’s saying, observe her confidence, her posture, her ease with the topics and with you. Start with some of the suggested questions that are most important to you, but also let the conversation guide your inquiries.
4. Do Your Due Diligence
There are many different pathways and certifications to becoming a doula and doulas come from broadly divergent experiences and backgrounds. Some are mothers, others aren’t, some gave birth in hospitals, others at home, some have PhD.s and others never attended college. Some doulas are training and starting out while others have attended hundreds of births. Some of these factual data points may be important to you while others feel less significant in your search.
Do your research and ask questions about a doulas’ qualifications, experience, certifications and training. Is she certified or trained and in the process of certifying? What are the requirements for certification? What organization is she certified with and what are their code of ethics and standards of practice? (You should be able to find these on the organization’s website if they’ve created guiding statements.) What trainings or continuing education does she have?
For a postpartum doula: Is she CPR certified? Does she have breastfeeding support education and experience? Has she worked with multiples (if you’re expecting twins +)? How many families has she supported? Is she current with the recommended vaccinations for working with infants? Does that matter to you?
Ask for and CHECK her references. So few people ask for references, and even fewer actually call and speak with them. Parents are happy to share their experiences and you may learn something that makes a difference from a reference check.
5. Feel Comfortable In Your Gut
After you’ve done all the “thinking,” right-brain work, hire the doula who FEELS right to you.
Meet and interview three to five doulas, talk with them, visit with them and ask those specific questions about experience and certifications. Then check in with how your gut reacts to each woman. This is an intimate and personal experience and both you and Dad/partner should feel at ease with your doula.
6. The Practical Steps
Once you’ve decided who you want to work with, iron out the details. Set up dates for your prenatal visits, discuss when you should call her and read through her letter of agreement. In general, your doula should walk you through this process as each doula manages her business uniquely and has different ways of working.
Understand her expectations of you in the relationship (when to call in labor, when final payment is due) and further communicate your expectations of her (presumably these have come up during the interview process). Keep in contact with your doula as you have prenatal visits with your healthcare provider and as you have questions. Rest easy knowing that hiring a doula is one of the best steps in owning your birth and early parenting experience!
Then, after your baby arrives, share your experience, your recommendations and help another family understand how to hire a doula!