4 Ways to Find the Perfect Doula

How to choose the best labor support professional for you.

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While woman-to-woman maternity support has been around ever since women have been having babies (well, technically, Eve was on her own), doulas are relatively new. After all, the first US professional organization for doulas (DONA, or Doulas of North America; now called DONA International) only started in 1992. This leaves many women wondering, "If I have a labor support partner and a nurse during labor, do I really need doula?" The answer: Maybe.

Related: Do You Need a Doula?

What's the point of having a doula, you ask? Doulas provide encouragement and support to new moms throughout pregnancy and birth; postpartum doulas even help with breastfeeding, housework, and cooking. Her role is to promote healing, and bonding with the new baby—basically, whatever you need. Sounds nice, right?

Research seems to think so, too. Studies indicate that when doulas are involved in the labor process, women have fewer C-sections and report greater satisfaction with their birth experiences.

See, doulas understand labor and birth from both the physiologic and emotional angles, and they know how hospitals work. They're gifted at helping women overcome really challenging contractions and labor transitions. They understand medical language and routine procedures, but they also know how to help mothers work around interventions that don't fall into their birth plans. And when those plans need to change quickly, the really great doulas know how to shift gears and continue providing top-notch support.

Related: 8 Tips from a Doula

Sadly, I've also worked with some challenging doulas. A few have had strict personal agendas and confrontational approaches. They've started arguments with medical staff over minor issues like taking mom's blood pressure. I've known doulas who have told their clients that under no circumstances would they allow them to have an epidural or C-section.

Plus, reimbursement from insurance providers is unusual. What happens to women who can't afford doulas? They receive support from their labor nurses, midwife or doctor, their partners and the people they've chosen to provide labor support. For many women, that's all they need and they report feeling well cared for.

Related: 20 Reasons Why Now Is the Best Time to Be Pregnant

Still, more often than not, doulas are a real asset to the birth experience. Here's how to find the best one for you:

Check their credentials

While DONA International offers certification programs, certifications aren't required to work as a doula. But a certification shows that your doula has passed a test that demonstrates her knowledge and competency. Before deciding on a doula, ask her where she studied, and if she received a certification.

Ask for references

See whom she has worked with in the past, and actually call them.

Search wisely

Visit doulamatch.net to instantly find doulas, along with their availability, education, certifications, and testimonials.

Interview potential doulas—in person

You're going to be spending a whole lot of time with this person, so you need to make sure your goals are the same, and that your personalities are compatible.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to jeanne@jeannefaulkner.com.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.