What questions should I ask a Doula?

While this is not an extensive list of questions,  this is a great start to get your mind rolling with additional questions to ask. Why are you a doula?  This is a really important question, which is why it’s first in this list. The answer to this will tell you so much about your potential doula and should allow an immediate opportunity to connect with them on several levels. How long have you been a doula or how many births have you attended? The best doula for you may have only been to a handful of births. Granted one with 100 births has much more experience, but they still may not bring to the table what another doula in your area can. While this is a legitimate experience marker don’t decide yes/no based on this alone. Some moms will only want a very experienced professional, while some may be looking for a doula that is specific things like a hypo-doula or massage therapist. Are you available for my due date? Do you have a backup? If the answer to both of these questions is a no you’re pretty much out of luck. Your due date is a question doulas may ask prior to an interview so neither party wastes their time. Plenty of doulas operate without backups, but there are quite a few doula associations and partnerships so most doulas likely have networked to find a backup. What type of pre-natal, birth, and post-partum support do you provide?  You could even go a step further and ask ‘What do you do in a prenatal appointment?’ or ‘What do you do at a post-partum visit?’ Be sure what they will be covering will fill the needs you are looking for. If not, ask if they can. Do you offer any special services or have any special certifications?  The training a doula has received will tell you a lot about the care they will provide. If they certified with any organizations be sure to google them yourself and verify that what they said about the organization or their training matches. You can also call the organizations to verify certifications if you have any doubt. Some doulas are also childbirth educators, licensed massage therapists, licensed aromatherapists, or working on obtaining licensing for different modalities. Are you comfortable supporting natural birth? an epidural? A c-section? hypno-birthing? VBAC? etc.  You can tailor this to what you expect or just ask about them all. If you have a specific birth situation that may occur it’s important to bring it up. Part of the motivation behind this question is to see if your doula can bring an easy-going and non-judgmental attitude to the delivery room. What are your fees and what’s included in them? This is very important to get clear from the start. With so many doulas offering different services and packages you want to be sure you are selecting what works best for your needs and budget, and keeping things straight between the doulas you interview. Do you offer payment plans? How do you like to receive payment?  Keep in mind what you are comfortable with, have you been saving to pay in one lump sum or do you need to make a few payments? Most doulas require full payment by 37 weeks or earlier. Do you have a refund policy?  Refund policies need to be clear and written out in whatever contract your doula provides. Be sure you are comfortable with the parameters, or mutually edit them in the agreement. For example, doulas tend to have time parameters for letting them know you are going to/at the hospital/birthing center. If they miss the birth because you or your partner didn’t abide by the lead time agreed upon in the contract you won’t get a refund. When do you arrive and what do you require from me for notice?  Everyone should be on the same page with expectations here. Again, it’s very important to know the parameters both parties are agreeing to so that you can both communicate effectively and feel like you have a working and fulfilling partnership. How will you involve and interact with my partner during the birth?  Keep in mind you your partner wants things to be here, whatever the doula wants to do is second to the partner. The doula should be able to assist you both in the labor and to help your partner assist you. The doula should not be there to take the place of your partner, unless they are unable to attend. Some partners fear a doula will take their special place. If that’s the case the interview or a pre-natal appointment is the time to bring that up for discussion, don’t wait until the birthing room. What happens if I change my mind about something in my birth plan while birthing?  Another doula test to see if they will bring an easy-going non-judgmental mindset to your birthing experience. Does their answer align with how you would like them to handle things? Do you have any references?  Past clients, personal friends, anyone to attest to their skills or knowledge. Can I contact you with questions before or after the birth?  Again, please be sure you are both on the same page. Some doulas prefer you save all questions for pre-natal visits, some offer a certain amount of phone/email support. Also remember that doulas are non-medical professionals. If you want to contact a doula to say ‘This is what’s happening, should I go to the hospital?’ they should likely say ‘I’m not a doctor or midwife so I don’t really know, if your gut says go in to be checked out you should.’ Any doula touting medical advice given to clients, homeopathic or otherwise, should be a red flag. How do I get in touch with you?  Does the doula prefer text or email? Are there certain hours they are available when they are not ‘on call’ for your birth? Do you have any other doulas you could refer me to?  By the end of the interview you should have a very good idea if the doula will jive for you in your birth setting. If it feels close but not quite they may have a doula friend who would be a better fit that they can suggest. Some doulas are very collaborative and doula community oriented and will not have an issue offering the names of other doulas you might like. But some might not offer any names for fear of losing business. How they handle this question may tell you a bit about them. Optional additional questions, if you feel they are important: What is your experience in breastfeeding support?  Most hospitals and birthing centers will offer lactation assistance. Some doulas are trained by Le Leche League or other breastfeeding organizations. Have you had a criminal background check, a recent TB test and current CPR certification?  Not always a typical doula interview question. But if these points are important to you be sure you ask. How would you handle things if an issue with mom or baby came up? Are you trained in bereavement services?  I know we all want birthing to be sunshine and smiles. But the reality is that sometimes very unexpected things occur outside of anyone’s control or understanding. Will the doula be able to continue supporting mom and family or will they melt into a sobbing puddle? Maybe both? Stillbirthday Birth & Bereavement Doula training for births of any outcome in any trimester is currently the best doula certification offered to be prepared for these situations. If having a trained Stillbirthday Doula is important to you please visit their site and look for certified doulas in your area. What are you currently doing to further your doula education?  Did they certify 10 years ago and never attend another course? Are they continually taking courses and learning the latest tools and keeping fresh? Does it matter to you which category they fall into?

How do I pick a Doula?

The world of doulas can seem complex. There are many certifying organizations and care styles/birthing philosophies a doula can offer. I believe that not every doula is the right match for every client. Doula interviews are kind of like blind dates. You need to see if you click, verify that you both want the same things in the short term future, feel comfortable with what your potential ‘partner’ is bringing to the table in terms of skills and knowledge, and if all goes well it culminates with nakedness and smiles. What is most important is that mom feels comfortable with the doula. A woman’s level of comfort during labor and delivery is of extremely important, uneasiness with surroundings can actually prolong labor or reverse the progress of labor. If mom doesn’t feel totally comfortable while sharing a meal or a (decaf) coffee with a doula, she’s not likely going to feel comfortable half naked in a delivery room with that doula. Please, if you do one thing, interview your doula before picking them. In person, skype, over the phone, anything more than just email and for more reasons than ‘the doula is available for my due date and I like the price.’ Doulas offer many things, pre-natal care, delivery services, post-partum care, and more. Be sure you look at the items offered by each doula you check out. Some offer package deals only of X number pre-natal and post-partum appointments, some offer only al a carte services, some do combinations of both. Think about what you might ideally want for support, and also don’t forget to ask what a doula would suggest for you. Price points are another hot topic in the doula world. Some offer ‘free’ services and some doulas cost thousands per birth. Every area tends to have a general range for price points, look up a few in your area so you have a general idea of what that range is. The highest priced doula is not necessarily the best and the lowest priced doula is not necessarily the worst. This is where researching and interviewing your potential doula comes in handy. Free is not always free, and keep in mind you sometimes get what you pay for. Some free or untrained doulas may not be able to help in certain birthing situations like a trained and skilled doula can. I have also found most free doulas do not operate with a backup in place, which can leave a birthing mother without the support she desires.. Would you want a free carpenter with minimal or no training, no business knowledge, no professional organization links, and no insurance building the framework of your home? No? Then you likely don’t want the same kind of situation building the framework of your baby’s entrance into the world either. While many free doulas come from a very good place in their heart, please look at the other options in your area to determine if you would have a better experience with another doula. Above all, please go interview them in person. Doulas have different educational, spiritual, and creative backgrounds. Think about what you want your birth to be like. While all doulas should honor what mom is looking for, please note we are not magicians. However, if you want someone using singing bowls at your birth you’ll need a doula who has them and knows how to use them. Do you plan to use any hypnosis training through birth? Then a Hypno-doula is for you. Would you like an all natural birth? Find a doula who is familiar with active birthing, positions to help baby descend and other evidence based birth plans. Are you planning to get an epidural and just need someone to make sure you feel like the birthing goddess you are? Most doulas are very well prepared to helping a mom in this capacity. While some people may see doulas as a crunchy hippie natural-birth-only professional that’s far from the truth. A doula should honor whatever mom’s birth plan is and be able to support changes in that plan on the fly. A mom should never feel judged by a doula for her birthing decisions or coaxed into making those decisions, another reason to get in that very important initial interview. If you have a particular childbirth philosophy or program you want to use in birthing see if they offer doula certification. For example, if you want to utilize hypnosis in birth Hypnobabies offers Hypno-Doula training and you can search for local hypno-doulas on their site. If you are taking a childbirth education class ask your instructor if they have doula suggestions for you so that you can actually use what you’re learning in the birthing room. I also like Sacred Pregnancy’s post on Choosing Your Best Prenatal + Childbirth Provider.
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