Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Doula, From a Doula

Beauty

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We’ve all heard the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But what does that mean for modern parents, who are so often siloed from the people that once provided essential support? In ELLE’s It Takes a Village series, we’re exploring the intersection of parenthood and community, including the costly services that have sprung up in the village’s wake and the many resources still available for birthing people. As Cleo Wade wrote in an original poem for this series: “Big love (the kind that changes the world) is group work, always.”


I’ve had three kids over the last dozen years, and in short, it’s been a wild ride. When I was pregnant with my first, I was terrified of even the idea of childbirth. Questions plagued me: Could I? Would I? Should I? This way or that? I felt like a Dr. Seuss character. In a box or with a fox?

My biggest fear, a common one, was whether my baby would be okay. It’s the main reason that I—and so many thousands of other parents—went in search of a doula. Once I had one, I swore I’d never go without.

In fact, my births were such great experiences that I decided to leave my beloved career as a middle school teacher and become a doula and lactation consultant myself, helping people birth and feed babies for a living. In my experience, I’ve discovered that many birthing people aren’t sure how to choose a doula, what questions to ask, or how to approach the overall birthing process. My hope is to demystify it all. Below, I’ve created your go-to guide on what to consider when hiring a doula, from how much it costs to how to find the right one for you.

How to Choose Your Doula Care


painted image of cherub babies

Culture Club//Getty Images

If you’re considering working with a doula for your birth experience, there are a few things to consider. Asking yourself these questions at the beginning of your search will make it easy to find the right person.

What do I want to get from doula care?

    Are you scared? Anxious? Excited? All of the above?

    First of all, whatever you’re feeling is totally normal. Doulas are especially good at supporting you in managing all the emotions that come up. So, think about your concerns and desires. You’ll want your doula—whomever you choose—to be able to support you through whatever you, specifically, are dealing with.

    How much is this support worth to me?

    A hundred bucks? One million dollars? Somewhere in between? Again, all totally normal.

    Be sure to ask yourself, and your partner, if you have one: “How much is this thing we want to have (see question 1) worth to me/us?”

    Once, after a client hired me, she said, “We knew you were out of our budget. But we made it work, because you felt like the best fit for us. It’s like trying on a wedding dress you love but don’t think you can afford. It’s a risk. And, if you really love it, you’ll find a way to afford it.”

    How much can I truly afford to spend?

    Since budgets are based on real numbers, this is a great question to ask in tandem with question 2. It’s important that you walk into a conversation knowing what you can spend.

    To determine your budget, think about:

    1. How much extra you have after meeting your family’s needs
    2. How much you have saved toward your pregnancy and postpartum
    3. What kinds of cuts you’d be willing to make for the right doula care
    4. What kind of payment schedule works for you (i.e. Can you pay in one chunk, or do you need an installment plan?)

    How to Find Your Doula


    painted image of woman with child

    Heritage Images//Getty Images

    The best place to start is word of mouth. Ask around in neighborhood groups, moms’ groups, and your friend circle. You might already know someone who had a great experience with a doula. Local professionals like your OB, midwife, doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist might also be able to introduce you to someone great.

    Google can also be a good place to look. You’ll likely find some candidates in your area or who work virtually. (Yes, that’s a thing! Virtual care is a highly flexible option for both you and the person you’re working with.)

    Once you have a few names, check out the doula’s online presence or testimonials to get a feel for their style. Remember, though, you don’t need to take other people at their word. An interview is an important step in the process for all doulas. You can set up the first conversation anytime that works for you.

    Some people prefer to meet with multiple doulas and choose among them. Others are happy to interview just one, and if that doula checks all the boxes, it’s a go. There’s no wrong way to do it.

    I had one client who told me in our interview that she had interviews with 12 doulas lined up, and felt exhausted by the whole process. We discussed what she was looking for and how I work with people. It was a match, and she ended up canceling the other interviews.

    Don’t feel pressure to interview a lot of people. That said, speak with as many as necessary to give yourself peace of mind that you’ve found the right doula for you.

    Determining Whether Someone Is a Great Fit

    Go into your doula interviews with a solid idea about what’s important to you. Remember, this person will be seeing you through an incredibly intimate event in your life, and you need to be able to trust them.

    Here are some other factors to consider:

    Experience

    Many people think that the number of births a doula has attended is the only way to measure a doula’s experience. I do not buy into that theory.

    Consider that doulas have a whole life’s worth of experience that informs their practice. Some have switched from another career, some have birthed their own babies, and everyone brings something unique to the table.

    My doula was pretty new when I hired her, and she was the perfect fit for me. So much so that I hired her for my next baby, too! When you meet with each person, ask them who they are, what have they been up to in life, and how they work with their clients. You’ll know if their life experience thus far is a match for you.

    Vibe

    It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: The vibe you have with your doula is super important.

    This person is going to see you naked, check in on your partner, and have a front-row seat at the birth of your baby. They’ll be there for you when you’re in tears and overwhelmed. She’ll laugh with you and celebrate your wins.

    So, make sure you examine how you feel when you’re with this person. This isn’t a wishy-washy decision. Make sure you are clear with yourself and others on your needs and wants.

    Do they help you feel calmer, give you valuable insights, offer some humor when called for, teach you something you didn’t know, and lighten your mental load? If the answer is “yes” to questions like these (and other things that are important to you), then this person might be a great fit.

    Communication Style

    It should be easy to communicate with the person you hire. Assess how you feel when speaking with the perspective doula. Can you see yourself partnering with this person for your birth? Does your body feel relaxed and do you feel good when you are speaking with them?

    This person should communicate clearly in all matters. For example, if you’re left wondering what next steps to take when hiring them, that doesn’t bode well for getting support during labor.

    Ask good questions. Trust your gut. You won’t go wrong.

    Great Questions to Ask During an Interview With a Doula


    painted image of cherub babies

    Fine Art Photographic//Getty Images

    Like any interview, when you speak with a potential doula, you want to be prepared. Think about the things that are important to you and your family. Here are some inquiries that have helped me along my journey and some of the best questions I have been asked by clients.

    • Tell me about you.
    • What inspired you to become a doula?
    • What do you love about your job? Is there anything you don’t like?
    • Is there anything you specialize in?
    • Have you had experience with my OB/midwife practice or hospital?
    • I’m having X concern. What will you do to support me with this?
    • My biggest fear/greatest priority is Y. How will you help me with this?
    • What does it look like to work together before the baby comes? What about after?
    • What if you can’t attend my birth? How do you handle backup?

    Once you find a doula who’s a great fit, snag them stat! Great doulas book up quickly. The sooner you confirm with them, the less likely they’ll book someone else into “your” spot.

    Typically, you’ll pay the same no matter how far along you are when you hire your doula. So, you actually get more of your money’s worth if you start earlier in your pregnancy. Once you’ve signed the contract and paid, you have someone in your corner to support you through your pregnancy and birth.

    What to Expect From the Experience


    painted image of woman with child

    Heritage Images//Getty Images

    You’ll have prenatal sessions with your doula. You’ll get to know one another, share your priorities, and close gaps in your knowledge. If you have a partner, your doula will guide both of you through the process of discerning what’s most important to you from the outset and then guide you to have an experience during labor where you’re in the driver’s seat.

    Doulas will help you create preferences for your birth and postpartum time and coach you to develop structures that ensure you and your family are taken care of as you transition into parenthood. If this isn’t your first rodeo, your doula will help you plan care for your older kid(s), which can give you peace of mind.

    Depending on your contract, your doula will usually be available for phone, text, video, and/or email support from the time of hire until after the baby comes.

    Doulas provide curated resources to help you deal with anything that comes up: evidence-based recommendations, the best classes to take, other providers to work with, and so on.

    Your doula can also help you navigate twists and turns during pregnancy. For example, I called mine whenever I left a stressful doctor’s appointment. When I was scared, she was there, and she helped me understand my options. I used her insights to make choices that worked for me and my family. She really helped me advocate for myself when my doctor wanted to induce me, and I preferred to wait for labor.

    When it’s time to birth your baby, your doula will be waiting. Doulas are on call 24/7 for a few weeks before and after your due date, and they’ll drop everything to be there for you. If you’re being induced or having a scheduled cesarean, your doula will have a plan for supporting you through those unique processes.

    Then, after birth, doulas are amazing for recovery—full of resources to help you heal from, process, and integrate your birth. During your postpartum sessions after birth (sometimes with a dedicated postpartum doula), you’ll be able to troubleshoot challenges with feeding and sleep, share any feelings you’re coping with, and learn new things about baby care.

    Many doulas have additional specialized training like lactation, massage, acupuncture, and other modalities that support your body and mind as you recover from birth. When my doula showed up for me, I felt like I didn’t have to think. I could just follow her guidance and my gut to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. Hopefully this guide, and your own doula, can do the same.

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