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How to find a birth doula (and how to find the right doula for you!)

I've been wanting to write this blog post for a while. Clients often ask me for advice about how to hire a doula and I always point them to the same resource: Doula UK. You can also ask for recommendations from friends and local parents in your area.

But once you've found a few doulas who are local to you and available around the time your baby will arrive, how do you actually choose who is going to support you? It feels like a massive decision: this is one of the very few people who will be with you during one of the most pivotal moments of your life. It's not an easy decision to make and nor should it be.

newborn baby

As with hypnobirthing, I always suggest that expectant parents do their research and make an informed decision. But how to do that? Here's my advice:

1. Arrange a face-to-face interview with each person on your shortlist.

2. Ensure that both you and your birth partner (if you have one) attend the interviews.

3. Ask the questions that feel right for you. Be honest and upfront about the kind of support you think you'll want.

4. Don't make an immediate decision. Talk it through with your birth partner and take your time.

5. Respond to all your interviewees (including those you don't hire).

And here's a list of possible questions you may wish to ask (you don't have to ask all of these - pick the ones that address your specific priorities):

a) Where did you receive your training and how long have you been a doula? What did your training involve? How long did you spend training?

Experience isn't everything but if you feel that you would be more assured by someone who has supported many women already, this might be an important consideration.

b) Tell me about your experience supporting families as a doula. What qualities do you possess that make you a good doula?

This is a great question for gaining insight to the personality, interests and approach of your potential doula. You can tell a lot from the way a person speaks about their past clients.

c) What additional skills do you bring to the role?

Many doulas also have a background in hypnobirthing/rebozo techniques/aromatherapy/massage etc. It might be beneficial to hire someone with an understanding of those complementary approaches that are important to you. Another consideration is whether you can ask your doula to take some photos for you. It can be lovely to have some images that show you in labour and just after your baby is born.

d) How will you support and work with my partner through the process?

I always think it's telling how a doula describes their interaction with your birth partner. This isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. You might have a birth partner who is really involved and prepared - in which case you might want a doula who blends into the background and just steps in if you need some additional support. Or your partner might be very apprehensive - so you may both want a doula who will be an active advocate for you and very hands-on from the start. Many doulas can take on either of these roles (and many others too) but you want to ensure that she has the empathy and self-awareness to recognise that she needs to be flexible, adaptable and responsive.

e) How will you interact with my medical team?

A major part of hypnobirthing is understanding how to make evidence-based decisions and how to ensure you are listened to and respected by your caregivers. I would suggest seeking out a doula who has a solid understanding of how to support you in doing this.

f) What do you cover in your prenatal visits?

Most doulas offer 1-2 prenatal visits, in advance of supporting you for the birth itself. What topics are discussed in these sessions? Is there anything in particular that you want to cover?

g) When do you consider yourself "on call" 24/7 for my birth? If there is a window of call time, what happens if I deliver before that timeframe begins?

Many doulas have a timeframe that begins two weeks before your due date and ends two weeks afterwards. It's important to also understand what happens if your baby chooses to arrive outside of this "window".

h) Will you attend whenever I need you during labour? What happens if my labour lasts for quite a long time? What have you done in other similar circumstances?

I would encourage you to ensure that there aren't additional fees if your labour is quite long. At the same time, remember that your birth partner and your doula will be best placed to to support you if they both get some rest. The ideal situation is for them to be with you together but also, if necessary, each step out separately if they need to sleep or recharge. At least one of them will always be with you. And as you get closer to giving birth, they can both be there for you.

i) Do you have a backup doula for times when you are not available? May we meet your backup?

This is one of the most essential questions. Even with the best intentions in the world, sometimes things come up which mean that your doula can not be with you for the birth. Many doulas work in a collective so that there is always someone else available if necessary. I would strongly advise meeting the back up doula as well and ensuring that you are comfortable with her too.

j) Does your fee also include a postnatal visit? What do you cover? Do you also offer postnatal doula services?

It can be really beneficial to have a debrief after the birth. It can also be interesting to hear her experience - she may have anecdotes and observations that you weren't aware of. Many doulas also have experience supporting women with breastfeeding. If you think you'll want more regular postnatal support, you can inquire if she offers this service too (I'll be writing a full blog post about hiring a postnatal doula at a later date!)

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