What to know about hiring a birth doula

If you’re expecting and planning for the birth of your baby, you may want to consider hiring a birth doula. Here is what you’ll want to know.

How women are cared for during pregnancy and labour can have a significant effect on their health and wellbeing.

Generally, carers during this time include a number of healthcare professionals, from GPs and nurses to midwives and obstetricians.

Doulas can play an important role too, by providing emotional and physical support to expectant mums before, during and after childbirth.

But what exactly is a doula? And how do you go about finding one?

Here’s what you’ll want to know.

So, what exactly is a birth doula?

The word “doula” comes from the Greek word doúlē, which means female servant or helper.

A birth assistant, a doula’s role is to enhance the birthing experience by offering encouragement, comfort and advocacy.

Unlike a midwife, a doula hasn’t had medical training and isn’t there to deliver the baby.

“The midwife or OB (obstetrician) has their job to do; a doula is there to support the emotional, holistic side of things,” birth and postpartum doula Vanessa Salerno says.

What are the duties of a birth doula?

Vanessa, who has attended over 70 births, says doulas can answer questions that aren’t for the medical care team.

“A doula can help you navigate the healthcare system and understand the process of labour and birth,” she says.

“Often, we become a sounding board; someone who isn’t the partner or a friend, who can be more impartial.”

Helping the mother, or the couple, prepare for the birth is usually the first step, Vanessa says.

“At this stage, we’re focused on mentally and emotionally paving the way for the birth, talking about their fears and expectations,” she explains.

“This is followed by birth education – looking at vaginal birth, unplanned Caesareans or elective Caesareans, and we talk about the fourth trimester.

“I’m then with them for the birth, for the debriefing, and I visit them once they are home, supporting them up until their baby is 12 weeks old.”

Not all doulas follow this structure, so ensure you know what services your doula offers.

Can you have a birth doula in the hospital?

A common misconception is that a doula is only for home births or deliveries without any intervention, but many doulas support all types of births.

Generally speaking, you can have two support people in the birthing suite at the hospital.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) says a birth partner can include a partner, friend or family member, as well as a doula or non-qualified birth attendant, who can give comfort and help women meet their childbearing goals.

For Caesareans, however, you’ll likely need permission for a second support person.

How much does it cost to hire a doula in Australia?

Costs for a doula can vary greatly and depend on their level of experience and the level of service provided (for example, the service may include prenatal visits, postpartum care and on-call support).

Typically, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1000 to $5000.

Doula services are not covered by Medicare or private health insurance.

How to find a doula

As the industry is unregulated, it’s important to do your homework when it comes to finding a doula.

Not all doulas have qualifications, and the number of births they have attended can vary greatly.

There are doula networks and directories online, such as Doula Network Australia, which offers an  interview guide to help you find the right fit.

Word of mouth can also be helpful; and meeting with your preferred doula beforehand to see if you’re compatible is a good idea – this way, you can see if your expectations align and if you feel comfortable with them.

“It’s like a job interview; you’ll just know if they are the right fit,” Vanessa says.

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Written by Samantha Allemann