Congratulations on your pregnancy. Now that you’ve begun to wrap your mind around the news that you’re expecting, you may be beginning to make a lot of plans. These including making some major decisions on pregnancy and post-pregnancy care.

As an expectant parent, you have a lot of choices for care for both you and your newborn. This includes the choice of care in a traditional medical setting, help in an alternative setting, and if you need the services of a doula as part of your support team.

You may be wondering, what exactly does a doula do? What are the differences between a doula vs. a midwife? How are both different than a traditional medical practitioner? We’ve got answers. We can also help you know more about how to locate doula options in your area, and how to decide which doula is the right fit for you and your family.

The basics: Just what does a doula do?

If you’re considering hiring a doula for pregnancy, delivery, and post-pregnancy care, it helps to understand exactly what a doula does. While many people may imagine that a Doula is an earthy, alternatively-focused unlicensed and unregulated support person, that image doesn’t do justice to the services this care provider can offer. With every decade, the practice is becoming more professionally-oriented and gaining respect as an indispensable part of the birthing process for both moms and dads.

Named after the Greek word for “a woman’s servant”, a doula is a non-medical professional designed to support a pregnant mother-to-be during her gestation and beyond. Doulas do everything from explaining to a mother what is about to happen, to helping her with labor support, to breathing with her and holding her through labor.

After labor, Doula’s are there too. They help with the transition into motherhood, listening to a new mom during moments of exhaustion, helping to adjust to and manage her post-labor body, and learning about new baby care. Doulas show no judgment in any of their tasks regardless of what they see and hear. They know it is a joyful and peaceful time, but that it is also exhausting and deeply personal where dynamics may be on display in full effect while a new family is forming. Respecting a family’s privacy is crucial.

Doula v. midwife

While a midwife and doula are sometimes used interchangeably, the two professionals offer very different services. While doulas offer non-medical support, midwives are professionally trained in the mechanics and practices of birthing. They help with both the medical and emotional components of bringing children into the world.

If they are properly credentialled for their state, midwives can hold a place on staff at birthing centers and hospitals and can provide significant medical support and care during the birthing process alongside doctors and newborn care nurses. While midwives are able to deliver a baby on their own, their training allows them to be keenly aware of when a birth might properly need medical intervention.

Anyone who is making a decision about birthing care should know that there are multiple levels of certifications and training for midwives. Certified nurse-midwives are registered nurses who can practice in all 50 states. Certified midwives have a bachelors degree but do not have nursing credentials and are only permitted to practice in a handful of states. Certified professional midwives are not degreed but have clinical experience in childbirth and have passed an exam. Like certified midwives, they are also only permitted to practice in a handful of states.

How to locate doula services

As you look to find a doula that is right for you, start by asking for references from friends and medical caregivers who have successfully worked with doulas in the past. They know you and the professional caregiving community so they’re in a great place to make a recommendation. If their recommendations aren’t turning up enough references, or you want to broaden your search, the internet can be a great tool. In addition to generating more names of qualified professionals in your area, you can also research references and see what others have to say online about the caregivers you’re considering working with.

While it is sometimes mistakingly believed that doula care can only be afforded by individuals with significant resources, this isn’t always the case. As part of your research, be upfront about asking for costs and payment methods. Also, it is worth checking to see if doula services are covered by your insurance plan or, at least, if payments are able to be made by pre-funded medical care expense accounts.

Finding a doula who is the best match for you

As part of your caregiver selection process, be sure to interview potential candidates so you will be confident that you and your doula will have great chemistry. Start by asking practical questions about their costs, timing availability, how this will change during labor, delivery, and the earliest postpartum weeks, and their experiences with working with the other professionals in your environment.

Once you’ve covered the nuts and bolts, ask questions that will help you understand their personality and how they like to work. As you hear the direct answers to their questions, do a “gut check” about the way you feel about their answers. Do the way they’re answering make you feel more relaxed, comfortable with them, confident in the process? Trust your reactions. This partner will be core support for your experience and needs to fit well.

The end of your selection process should provide the result of a care partner who fits seamlessly with you, your partner, and anyone else involved in your pregnancy and birth. With the right person in place, your child’s birth will be a beautiful experience. Your doula can show the expertise, caring, and support that brings about the best start possible for your new family.