What Is a Doula?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on September 27, 2023
4 min read

A doula provides emotional and physical support to you before, during, and after your pregnancy and childbirth.

Doulas aren't medical professionals. They don't deliver babies or provide medical advice or medical care. Doulas assist and advocate for the birthing parent.

Doulas can perform different roles, depending on your needs.

  • Labor or birth doulas provide continuous care during labor.
  • Antepartum doulas support women who are put on bed rest to prevent preterm labor. They help with household tasks and childcare.
  • Postpartum doulas support the new mom during the first few weeks after birth. They help with care and feeding of the baby and household tasks.

Before childbirth, a birth doula will typically:

  • Meet with you during your second or third trimester to get acquainted
  • Teach you relaxation and breathing skills
  • Answer your questions about the birthing process
  • Help you understand labor and delivery procedures and possible complications
  • Help you develop a birth plan

During labor, the doula will:

  • Stay with you constantly to provide comfort and support
  • Use massage and touch to help you relax and rest
  • Help you get into comfortable positions
  • Help you get adequate nutrition and fluids
  • Help communicate your preferences to the medical staff
  • Involve and reassure the dad-to-be

After delivery, a doula can:

  • Provide support and encouragement to both you and dad after bringing your baby home
  • Teach both of you how to care for your new baby
  • Assist with breastfeeding education
  • Support dad and other siblings and teach them how to help you
  • Make sure you get plenty of rest, eat regularly, stay hydrated, and are comfortable

A certified doula has taken a training program and passed an exam in how to help you and your family before, during, and after pregnancy.

Midwives are registered nurses who specialize in midwifery. As such, they're trained healthcare providers who can oversee low-risk pregnancies, labor, and birth. They can provide other obstetric and gynecological services too. They can do exams and help with basic gynecological concerns like sexually transmitted infections, urinary tract infections, or yeast infections. They help support you during labor and in the postpartum period with breastfeeding and birth control.

Doulas, on the other hand, aren't clinical professionals and can't give medical advice. They can't prescribe medicines, and they can't deliver your baby. But they can offer you and your partner physical and emotional support during labor—and sometimes during and after your pregnancy. Doulas can help you with breathing techniques, positional changes, and relaxation strategies during labor. Studies show doulas are associated with fewer C-sections and more vaginal births.

As needed during your labor and delivery, doulas will help you communicate with the medical team. A doula doesn't replace nursing or other medical staff. They don't examine you, take measurements, or do other clinical tasks.

Doulas can help prevent or address medical system racism and racial bias for people of color. They provide tailored and culturally sensitive care. They advocate for their clients by providing information and education to other members of the delivery team.

A doula can help you have a positive and safe birth experience:

  • During labor, a doula can help with coaching and emotional support.
  • Studies show that when doulas are involved, there are shorter labors, fewer C-sections, fewer requests for pain med s, and more positive childbirth experiences.
  • Birthing parents who use doulas have more success with breastfeeding.

Most insurance plans don't cover costs of having a doula. So, you'll probably have to pay out of pocket. Doula costs can range from $200 to $5,000, depending on where you live and what services they provide.

Doulas usually aren't members of a hospital staff, so you may have to find them on your own. Ask your doctor, friends, and family members for recommendations.

It's a good idea to meet with potential doulas in person before choosing one. Some questions to ask are:

  • What's your training? Where did you train?
  • What's your certification?
  • How many births have you attended? 
  • How many new parents have you assisted?
  • How much do you charge?

Choose a doula who's knowledgeable, whose rates you can afford, and whom you like and trust.

  • A birth doula provides emotional and physical support to you before, during, and after your pregnancy and childbirth.
  • A certified doula has taken a training program and passed an exam.
  • Doula costs range from $200 to $5,000, depending on where you live and what services they provide.
  • Most insurance plans don't cover doula costs.

Are doulas worth the money?

Because birth doulas help reduce the rate of C-sections and provide advocacy for you, you may feel they're worth every penny.

What is another word for doula?

A birth doula is also called a birth companion, nonclinical birth worker, birthing coach, labor coach, or post-birth supporter.

What is an end-of-life doula?

An end-of-life doula, also called a death doula, helps you and your loved ones before, during, and after death. They provide emotional and physical support, education about the dying process, preparation for what's to come, and guidance while you're grieving.