If you are reading this, you or your partner are probably pregnant. Congratulations! You are also probably thinking about hiring a doula – great idea! For many people, hiring a doula is an important part of preparing for labor. Giving birth is a team effort and research has shown that having a doula can improve birth outcomes. Doulas can also improve maternal mental health and help reduce the risk of postpartum depression through education and support. So, how does one go about hiring a doula? How do you know which doula is the right one for you? What questions should you ask? Let’s get into it!

First, it is important to think about your budget, because that will determine your next step. Hiring a doula can range anywhere from free to thousands of dollars, depending on where you live and how experienced you want to go. Here are some things to consider when deciding on a budget:

Not counting the cost?

If money is not of concern to you, then you may want to consider hiring a doula who has a breadth of experience. Doulas in the $1,000-$2,000 range have been to hundreds of births and should be able to answer all of your questions without any problem. They have likely seen it all and are probably familiar with local hospitals, birthing centers, doctors, midwives, and pregnancy related resources.

Kind of counting the cost?

There are many experienced doulas who offer services at a more reasonable price (under $1,000). They may not have as many births under their belt as those previously mentioned, but they have lots of good experience and knowledge. This is a very popular option!

Really counting the cost?

No problem! There are passionate doulas out there who are excited to gain experience and willing to offer services at little to no charge. It is difficult for doulas to get experience after they receive training, because shadowing a doula/birth is not a common practice. This can make it difficult for new doulas to get experience right off the bat, but they are full of fire and can be a great option. While it is true that these doulas will not have the same experience or knowledge base, they are probably connected to other doulas or even a doula mentor who can act as extra support and guidance. They are excited to learn and, in the end, it’s about the connection.

Once you’ve decided on your price-range, which again will very much vary based on your location, you can begin looking. Google is your best friend here! You may try typing in: “doula co-op” or “volunteer doula” or “experienced doula in my area.” You can also look for doula pages on Facebook or ask for recommendations from friends who have hired doulas. Local studios that offer prenatal yoga or birthing classes will likely have connections to doulas in the area.

Okay, so you’ve found a few doula options and now it’s time for the consultation meeting. Think of this as a first date – you’re both scoping each other out to see if it’s a good fit. The doula should come with a contract and be ready to answer all your questions. This is usually done in a coffee shop or public space and is free of charge. (Once you have hired a doula, she will likely do prenatal visits in your home if you are comfortable with this.) If you have a partner and they are planning to attend the birth, you may want to invite them to the consultation meeting as well. Do not feel pressured to make a decision about the doula right there and then, unless of course you are ready to!

What should you ask during the consultation meeting?

1. What does their package include?

Your average package usually includes one free consultation, 2-4 prenatal visits, continuous labor support, on-call support from 37 weeks on, one postpartum visit, and telephone support. Make sure you know what they offer and what they expect and make sure it lines up with your own expectations and needs.

2. What training and experience do they have?

You may have already gathered this information during the process of finding them. However, now is the time to ask them to expound on their experiences as a doula. Why did they become a doula? How many births have they been to? Have they attended a birth in the particular setting where you will be laboring? Are there any births that they do not feel comfortable attending? Have they received any trainings that might come in handy (i.e. massage, aromatherapy, prenatal yoga, lactation consulting, etc.). Many doulas are not officially certified, but rather “trained.” However, if certification is important to you, you should ask about this. There is no right or wrong way to think about this; it is completely personal.

3. What’s in their approach to pain management during labor?

Not every doula brings a bag of goodies with them to the birth, but many do. This bag might be filled with essential oils, washcloths, straws, electrolyte beverages, massage balls, heating pad, etc. You may want to ask your doula what they use for pain management and what you can expect from them once those contractions really get going. They will probably ask you how you normally manage pain and stress – this will give the doula an idea of what will work for you specifically. Some like distraction, others music, others touch – there’s no wrong way to manage pain. You may also be interested in a particular approach, such as Lamaze or Hypno-birthing, in which case it is important for your doula to have experience or training in those methods.

4. Do they have strong opinions about medicated vs. unmedicated birth?

Make sure your doula is committed to supporting you in whatever YOU decide. You do not want to feel shamed for getting an epidural and/or you don’t want to feel pushed to receive interventions if you feel committed to laboring unmedicated. It is important that your doula supports YOUR birth desires and does not come with their own agenda.

5. What is their approach to working with hospital staff?

Ask how the doula handles any conflict that may arise in the hospital/birth center? Can they share experiences of when and how they’ve worked with the hospital staff or advocated for their client when necessary? This will give you a sense of how they work with others and how they will support you while maintaining a peaceful environment. Again, team effort!

6. What about a back-up doula?

Many doulas plan for back-ups in case, for some reason, you go into labor before the decided upon time when the doula is on call (usually 37 weeks and on). If premature labor is a concern of yours, it might be particularly important to ask this question. Does your doula have other clients who are due around the same time as you or does your doula have any vacations planned around your EDD (estimated due date)? It’s important to cover all your bases so that you aren’t stressed out by any last minute changes!

7. What is their missed birth policy?

Don’t worry, it is unlikely your doula will miss your birth. However, it does happen from time to time. The most common reason for a missed birth is labor that progresses unexpectedly quickly! Your doula’s contract will probably give a specific amount of time needed to get to the hospital, birth center, or home in time. If the birth occurs within that window, they will not be responsible for missing the birth and will expect full payment. Each doula may handle this differently and their policy should be explicitly stated in the contract. That being said, the closer the doula lives, the better. You probably don’t want to hire a doula who lives an hour away from your designated birthing place.

8. And last but certainly not least, a question for yourself: Do you like their vibe?

This is arguably the most important factor to consider when hiring a doula. All the experience in the world doesn’t matter if there’s no connection. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re meeting with your potential doula. Do they put you at ease? Do they listen well? Can you envision this person creating a safe and comfortable space for you to deliver your child? Does this person get along with your partner, if you have one? If your partner is not a fan of your doula, then you may be dealing with tension in the birthing room and you don’t want that! You may also want to consider anyone else who will be attending your birth. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but it is important to consider the dynamic you’re creating.

Once you’ve met your potential doulas, gathered all the information that feels important to you, and talked with anyone who may be impacted by this decision, then it’s time to follow your gut and hire the doula who you can see beside you when you welcome your baby into the world!