If you listen to my podcast, you’ll know my most recent guest was Mariana, a doula who works in Louisiana. She talked a lot about the role and responsibilities of a doula, and how they can help support you before, during, and after labour. I recommend giving that a listen (to hear about the doula role straight from the horses mouth), however for those who prefer to read, I decided to provide a brief summary of the role/scope of practice of a doula; how they might be able to support you from bump to beyond; and for my local readers, how you can go about finding one in Ontario.
*Disclaimer: This blog is intended for informational purposes only. The information on this blog should not be used as a substitute to medical advice or medical treatment. As always, your Primary Care Provider, a doctor, or another health professional is your best resource for specific questions and medical advice. If you believe you or a loved one are experiencing a medical emergency, please contact 911.*
What is a doula?
They are trained professionals in various types of support (and yes – there are actually more than just birth/postpartum doulas but this post is about birth & postpartum doulas). Some are birth workers, others work in postpartum support.
They attend training(s) (there are various institutions globally which I’ll discuss in a minute) + complete some sort of educational component – requirements do vary depending on where they complete their certification and what the program requires.
Birth and postpartum doulas primarily provide emotional, physical, and informational support to the families they care for. It’s important to note that they provide support to more than just the mom-to-be or mom.
So to put it very simply – they are a support person in so many different ways for pregnant women + their partners, labouring mothers, and new parents/families. They are there to help you have the best experience possible, and as Mariana said on the podcast, to help you advocate for yourself.
What kind of support can a doula provide?
Depending on the type of doula you’re working with, they can do things like:
Helping to provide you with + connect you to evidence-based information and resources, so that you can have the knowledge to make safe & informed decisions for your care. They also act as an advocate for their patients – as I mentioned above, to encourage and support (and empower) you to speak up and advocate for yourself.
On the podcast, Mariana referred to doulas as a “bridge” – between the patient/family and their provider(s). This is also how DONA International refers to doulas in regards to providing informational support to patients (more about them in a second).
Doulas can provide a variety of physical support in the early labour, childbirth, and postpartum periods. For example they may provide massage or assist with comfort and coping measures (counter pressure, etc.); they may provide tips and assistance with different positions during labour; coach you on breathing; provide some breastfeeding support; and more. They can support any kind of birth – vaginal, C-section, medicated, or unmedicated.
A postpartum doula may provide you with physical support after the birth of your baby, such as helping around the house or with errands.
When you first think of support, the kind of support you likely associate with the word is emotional. Doulas are there to provide this type of support for the mother and their loved ones. They can provide reassurance, a shoulder to lean on, encouragement, and more.
I mentioned earlier that doulas don’t just care for the mother who is pregnant or in labour, but their loved one or partner as well.
Where do doulas train?
There are many different training programs for doulas that are offered both locally and internationally.
A couple examples of doula training programs that are well-known are: DONA International, CAPPA (which offers other certification programs such as those for childbirth and lactation educators), Doula Training Canada, and more.
Each program is different and more information about the aspects of these programs can be found on the respective websites (linked above).
Usually there is an in-person intensive component (a weekend of learning skills), some type of learning/educational component, mentorship, as well as in-person support requirements (they must work with families prior to being certified in many cases). As Mariana and Rebecca mention in the podcast episode, there is a lot of reading and a big component of reflection.
What are the benefits of having a doula?
There is lots of evidence that support during labour (and postpartum) improves experiences + outcomes.
With doula support specifically, it has been shown that there are lower rates of C-section and improvement in overall outcomes for mom and baby. Even prenatal visits by doulas can have a positive impact, encouraging mothers to make healthy choices during pregnancy.
Evidence Based Birth has a great page that reviews some other benefits of doula support here.
How do I find a doula that is safe, trustworthy, and trained?
In terms of finding one…
If you know anyone who has used a doula for their birth, you can ask them for recommendations or ask your healthcare provider (we often have connections!).
Any of the organizations I listed above usually have a “Find a Doula” tab where you can search for doulas certified by them in different areas.
The Association of Ontario Doulas also offers this tab and you can search for doulas in Ontario who meet their registration criteria. This includes specific in-person learning hours, mentorship, and more. I like this tool for Ontario a lot because it holds doulas to a more ‘regulated’ standard.
When you find someone…
Mariana talks about this in the podcast but make sure you meet your doula – it can be difficult with COVID so if you can’t meet in-person at the time, a good first step would also be to do a virtual video visit so you can actually see who you’re dealing with.
You want to find someone who shares your goals/views – similar to when you look for a birth healthcare provider. This is why meeting or at least chatting indepthly virtually is very important.
Ask them about: their education/training, their experience (both personal and for work), what their beliefs are when it comes to birth work, how busy they are (how many clients they take on at once), their services/pricing and what it includes, and whether or not they have someone to cover for them in the event that they are unavailable. You can also ask for references for extra reassurance. Ask them anything you please, but make sure you hit on the key questions about their care, services, beliefs, and experience!
Take-away points: doulas are a great option for additional support during birth (or postpartum), with many benefits (supported by evidence). If and when you’re looking for one, make sure to ask lots of questions and get a good feel for them before using their services – to make sure you’re a good match and they have the experience/training you feel comfortable with.