what is a doula

If you’re expecting a baby and would like to prepare for your labor, you might be considering a doula. But you might be wondering what is a doula and how to find a great one to work with you.

I wrote this blog to share with you some basic information about doulas as well as practical recommendations on how to find a great doula for you. 

The basics: what is a doula?

A doula is a trained, non-medical companion who assists a woman before, during and after childbirth. Doulas are not medical providers and do not perform clinical tasks such as vaginal exams or administering medication. Instead, a doula provides physical, emotional, and informational support. A doula can help you with a wide range of non-medical pain-management techniques such as massage, reflexology, aromatherapy, and music.

She can also advocates on your behalf, mediating between you, your family, and medical staff to ensure your wishes are respected and that they have the best possible birth experience.

How can a doula help you

A doula’s role can vary depending on your own specific needs. It also depends on the stage of your pregnancy you choose to have her support: before, during, and after birth. 

The general services a doula offers include:

  • Providing information about childbirth and the postpartum period during the pregnancy
  • Offering physical support during labor, such as back massage or helping them find comfortable positions
  • Providing emotional support and encouragement during labor
  • Helping you and your partner communicate with healthcare providers and advocate for your needs and preferences
  • Helping to create a peaceful and supportive environment in the birthing space
  • Assisting with breastfeeding and newborn care after the birth
  • Some doulas also offer postpartum support in your home during the weeks after labor. Support might include light house cleaning, caring for your toddler, holding your baby while you shower, etc. 

How are doulas different from midwives?

When wondering what is a doula, you might also be asking yourself: what is the difference between a doula and a midwife. This is such a common question!

Doulas and midwives are both professionals who provide support and care to pregnant women and their families. But they have different roles and responsibilities.

A doula is a trained professional who will you provide you and your partner with physical, emotional, and informational support during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period. 

Doulas are not trained in any type of medical care, including vaginal exams and checking fetal heart rate. They cannot give any medical advice but only support to help you get the information you need so you can make an informed decision. 

What doulas can do is provide non-medical support. This includes education around labor, relaxation techniques, massage, and helping the family to advocate for their needs and preferences during labor. They can also support you after you had your baby. 

A midwife, on the other hand, is a healthcare professional who is trained to provide primary care, including prenatal care, deliver your baby, and assist in your recovery immediately after labor. Midwives are trained to recognize and manage normal pregnancies and births, as well as to identify and refer to other healthcare professionals when necessary. Midwives can provide care in a variety of settings, including hospitals, birthing centers, and homes.

In summary, doulas provide non-medical support to pregnant people and their families, while midwives are healthcare professionals who provide medical care.

Benefits of working with a doula during your pregnancy

When talking about what is a doula, we can’t skip all the great benefits that a doula can provide during your pregnancy.

There is A LOT to be said about the benefits and research evidence on the benefits of working with a good doula. You can read more about them in this blog post.

But overall, doulas can be an especially valuable resource if you are giving birth for the first time, as they can help you and your partner to feel more prepared and confident. They can also provide support if you had previous births that were difficult or traumatic. Or if you are facing other challenges, such as a high-risk pregnancy or a planned cesarean birth.

There is evidence to suggest that having a doula can have several benefits for the birthing person, including:

  • Reduced need for pain medication
  • Shorter labor
  • Lower incidence of cesarean delivery
  • Increased satisfaction with the childbirth experience
  • Improved breastfeeding outcomes

Hiring the right doula

When to book your doula

It is generally recommended to book your doula as early as possible in your pregnancy, as the best doulas can often book up quickly, and you may have a better chance of securing the doula of your choice if you start your search early. 

Some doulas may even be fully booked for several months in advance, so it’s a good idea to start your search as soon as you decide you want to hire a doula.

When you contact potential doulas, be prepared to discuss your due date, any preferences or concerns you have about your birth, and any logistical issues (such as location or availability) that might impact your decision. 

You should also be prepared to discuss your budget and any payment arrangements, as the cost of hiring a doula can vary widely.

Overall, the key is to start your search for a doula as soon as possible so that you can have plenty of time to research your options and make an informed decision.

Ways to find a great doula for you

There are several ways to find a doula.

We typically turn to Google when searching for services. While this is a great place to start, many doulas don’t have a website. Or their website is not well optimized to be found by Google. To rank page 1 for local service is actually pretty difficult as it requires an amount of technical knowledge on “SEO” that many local professionals don’t have the time or resources to invest.

As such, when finding the right doula for you, I recommend going beyond a simple Google search and reaching out to your community and another online search:

  • Search on Instagram hashtags: I’ve noticed many doulas without a website promote their services on Instagram. You can use this type of hashtag to find doulas: #doulayourcity
  • Ask your healthcare provider for recommendations
  • Ask for recommendations in local Facebook mom groups 
  • Search online directories of doulas in your area
  • Contact local birth centers
  • Ask friends or family members who have had positive experiences with doulas

Things to consider when hiring the right doula for you

If you are interested in hiring a doula, it is important to do your research and find someone who is a great fit and well-prepared to care for you. 

Not all doulas are created equal. The level of experience and training varies greatly because the barrier to entry into the profession is fairly low. That is, formal certification is not a requirement. And there is little financial investment upfront as they need little equipment or a physical office (as opposed to a photographer, for instance). As such, a doula is a profession that can attract women with little education and training. 

As with lactation consultants, my personal recommendation is to hire someone who is certified through a well-known certification program to give you peace of mind and trust that they will guide you with the best up-to-date and evidence-based knowledge. 

In my opinion, a certification program might not be enough to ensure a doula’s quality of service and depth in her knowledge. But, by investing time and money on one or multiple certification programs, it shows that she is committed to becoming the best professional she can be. 

Because you cannot evaluate a physical or visual “doula portfolio” to make your own assessment on the quality of her work, as you can do with a photographer, you need to collect as much information as you can to make an informed decision. 

Here are a few things to consider during the hiring process: 

  • Level of experience: not necessarily how many years, but how many births she did before 
  • Proper training and certification: if she is certified and what certification program has she completed
  • Who is her replacement: there is always a chance your doula won’t be available when you go into labor if you are having natural labor. It is important to vet the replacement as much as the main doula you will be working with
  • How you AND your partner feel around her: because you will be sharing intimate moments with your doula, it is important to hire someone you feel comfortable and at ease with, no matter the circumstances

Questions to ask doula candidates during the interview

I highly recommend setting up a phone or video call with the potential candidates and asking practical questions that will help you with your decision:

  1. What is your philosophy on childbirth? What types of births do you support (only natural or medicated and C-section)?
  2. How many births have you attended and in what settings (home, hospital, birth center)?
  3. What kind of support can you provide during labor?
  4. How do you support my partner during labor?
  5. What is my partner’s role during labor? And how will you and my partner work together?
  6. Can you provide references or testimonials from previous clients?
  7. What is your availability during the weeks leading up to and after the birth? How many other clients will you take?
  8. Do you have experience with childbirth complications or high-risk pregnancies?
  9. Are you comfortable with supporting a variety of birthing plans (natural childbirth, medicated birth, cesarean birth, etc.)? If I decide to have an epidural, will you still support me?
  10. How do you handle situations when things do not go as planned? Do you have experience with women who have an unplanned Cesarean?
  11. What are your fees and do you offer packages or payment plans?
  12. For moms attempting a VBAC: Do you have experience with women attempting a VBAC? What were your experiences like?

The most common problem when hiring a doula and how to avoid it

The most common source of a negative experience when working with a doula: double or even triple booking around your due date.

When I was searching for a doula for the second birth of my baby, a common complaint I read is the doula not showing up to the labor. And worse – not even sending a replacement! 


Because she booked too many expecting couples around the same due date. Not exactly on the due date, but around. 

Unless you’re having a planned C-section, you can never know exactly when you will be giving birth. Or how long your labor will last – my two labors lasted nearly 72h! So it is better to work with a doula that has a strong plan B in place. A plan that works for you and puts your mind at ease. And a doulal who schedules clients in a way that allows for her to be present in as many births as possible. 

So, make sure to ask these additional questions:

  • What happens if you are not available when I go into labor?
  • Will I meet with your replacement at no extra cost?
  • How many births do you typically book around my due date? 
  • How far apart are the due dates when you book clients?
  • How many births did you miss last year because of different clients going into labor around the same time?

What to do next

Are you searching for a maternity, baby or family photographer? If you’re based in Toulouse, Paris, or London, and would like to book a session or ask a question, please visit the contact page to send me a message. If you’d like to see more of my work, I invite you to browse around my website.