Frequently Asked Questions About Doulas

Read frequently asked questions about the Hearts & Hands volunteer doula program for mothers delivering at UC San Diego.

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Why are birth outcomes better with doulas present?

Multiple randomized control studies have found that the presence of a trained doula benefits everyone. The studies have consistently shown that doula care is associated with shorter labors, less use of epidurals and other pain medications, lower episiotomy rates, and as much as a 50% reduction in the C-section rate. Research has also shown better clinical outcomes for both the mother and the baby (including fewer admissions to neonatal special care units, better breastfeeding rates, and better family bonding). A doula also provides care for the mother’s partner and other family members, assists busy hospital staff, saves money, and greatly increases a mother’s overall satisfaction with her birthing experience.

Is a doula the same thing as a midwife?

No. A doula provides no medical or nursing care. Since she doesn’t have these responsibilities, or other patients to attend to, she can give her complete attention to being by a woman’s side for the entire length of her labor.

Does a doula replace the father or partner?

A doula doesn’t replace anyone. She is another member of the birth team, and supports everyone in their own role. A doula’s presence helps fathers or partners participate at their own comfort level, showing them how and when to use various comfort techniques, providing information, and in some cases, looking after them as well. Partners are often grateful to be able to share the “coaching” responsibility with someone more experienced, and can therefore enjoy the birth experience more. This article by Penny Simkin has additional information.

Can a doula help if a woman has an epidural?

Yes. A doula’s presence is very helpful during early labor and during the epidural placement process. She then continues to care for the woman and her family, offering emotional and informational support. And when it’s time to deliver the baby, the doula’s assistance can be invaluable.

Can a Hearts and Hands doula attend C-section births?

Yes, a woman facing major surgery can still use a doula’s support. The doula may or may not be in the operating room, depending on the wishes of the family and the medical staff, but either way, the doula is still there for the new mother in the recovery room.

Can I request a particular doula or get to know a doula ahead of time?

Usually not through the free Hearts & Hands Program. Our doulas are all volunteers, and we work primarily “on call,” so in most cases the doula and mother have not met previously. But something special happens when a doula introduces herself to the whole family and says “I’m here to help you in any way you wish—and I won't leave you until your baby is born!”

Sometimes it is clear that a woman will benefit from getting to know a doula while she is pregnant, so occasionally referral doulas are available. Talk to your midwife or physician for more information. Also, private doulas may offer additional services not available through the Hearts & Hands Program. If you decide to hire a private doula, interview several before selecting one who best meets your needs.

How do I become a doula?