Selecting Your Birth Team | By Ana Paula Markel CCE, CD

In the days before modern medicine and hospitals, laboring women would often be supported by other ‘wise women’ in their communities, who held and passed along the knowledge needed for the next generation to assist women during the process of labor and birth. These women were among the earliest ‘doulas’ - women whose sole role was to provide comfort, encouragement and wisdom during a woman’s labor and birth. The idea of the modern doula began to gain popularity from the studies of Dr. Marshall Klaus and John Kennel during the 1980s, which clearly showed the benefits of the presence of a doula during the labor process. DONA International was founded in 1992, and the role of the doula became a legitimate profession, with prospective doulas required to complete extensive training and assist in multiple births before becoming certified. In the past 20 years, one birth at a time, doulas have secured their role as an instrumental component in the birth team. People commonly think of doulas and midwives as having similar tasks, when in reality the midwife is a licensed care provider in charge of the mother and baby’s health while the doula’s focus is on supporting and promoting an environment of calmness and confidence in the mother.

As reported in many studies, the presence of a doula has many health benefits (less medical interventions, faster labors, easier breastfeeding) and the presence of a doula also highly increases birth satisfaction for the new mother. Doulas are not only for mothers planning an all-natural birth, but for mothers planning or investigating all kinds of birth choices. The doula movement is all about options, information and nonjudgmental support. Doulas are hired for all scenarios, including scheduled cesareans. In current maternity care, women often feel rushed during OB visits and sometimes are too self-conscious to share concerns, questions or fears with medical personnel. This is one of the gaps that doulas can fill. One of the greatest benefits of hiring a doula is that doulas are well-read, informed and trained in medical terms, and understand routine hospital protocols along with the risks and benefits of various medical interventions. Doulas do NOT make medical decisions for their clients, but they do help clients to make informed decisions. In all up-to-date facilities across the country, doctors and nurses welcome the presence of a calming and professional doula. There is no role confusion; doulas are not there to take over the care of the woman, but to add to it. Doulas and nurses complement each other. During the process of hiring a doula, mothers should not feel shy to interview as many doulas as they feel they need to find their ‘match.’ An interview should be free of charge and commitment and usually lasts around one hour.

Some of the important points for a family to consider in hiring a doula are:

  • How much experience does she have?

  • How many births has she attended?

  • Is she a mother herself?

  • How many births does the doula take a month?

The answers to these questions may mean different things to different mothers-to-be. A mother may feel comfortable with a newer doula based on a pe