What is a Doula? (almost) Everything You Need To Know

Pregnancy is a time of excitement and joy, often also coupled with a few doubts and questions. It’s normal! Becoming a parent is a monumental transformation. And getting the right emotional and physical support to help go through this transformation can make a world of difference.

If you feel that you could need extra support during pregnancy, birth, or after your baby is born, a doula might just be the person you are looking for. Read through our article to discover the role of doulas and how they can help you during this special time of your life.

Learn more about doulas

1. What is a doula?
2. What kind of support can a pregnancy & birth doula provide?
3. How much does it cost to hire a doula?
4. What is a birth doula?
5. What is a postpartum doula?
6. What is the difference between a midwife and a doula?
7. What kind of training do doulas follow?
8. What are the benefits of having a doula?
9. I have also heard about holistic doulas – what does it mean?

1. What is a doula? 

A doula is a trained professional who provides support during pregnancy and birth, and right after birth. The word comes from the Greek word doule, which means female helper or servant. While a midwife focuses on clinical care, a doula provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum. They are a trusted support who help the mother and her partner make informed choices throughout their journey and assist them toward a positive experience.

When talking about doulas, people usually refer to pregnancy and birth doulas. Pregnancy and birth doulas provide support during pregnancy and can assist during birth, whether you give birth at home or at the hospital, and whether you plan to give birth vaginally or through a C-section. They also provide support in the postpartum period by visiting the new parents and their baby after birth.

It is also possible to hire a doula to support you during birth or postpartum only, to support during an abortion, or to help take care of older siblings.

2. What kind of support can a pregnancy & birth doula provide?

In general, the role of doulas can be to:

  • Share their knowledge to help parents feel more confident
  • Offer a listening ear and emotional support
  • Help prepare the birth plan
  • Provide physical support in the form of massages and other hands-on comfort measures
  • Teach the mother and her partner techniques and positions for natural pain relief
  • Help the birthing partner be more involved
  • Be there during birth to support the mother and advocate for her wishes
  • Provide support, comfort and guidance after birth

A “standard” birth and pregnancy doula package will usually include:

  • several sessions during pregnancy to get to know you, inform you about the whole process, and discuss your personal needs and wishes, also for instance to help write your birth plan
  • support via Whatsapp or SMS to answer your questions
  • ongoing support during labour and birth
  • 1 or 2 visits post birth to discuss postpartum challenges and questions.

Some packages may also include additional services such as massages, nutrition advice, etc., depending on the expertise of the doula. Some doulas also offer online support or last minute packages to expectant parents who decide to hire a doula after the 37th week.

3. How much does it cost to hire a doula?

Pregnancy and birth doulas rates usually vary between ~1000€ and 2500+€, mostly depending on the expertise of the doula and the services included within the support package.

It is also possible to hire intern doulas. These are doulas who are actually in the process of completing their training and looking for families to support as part of their certification process. In these cases, their rates is a bit lower, often starting around 500€.

In the Netherlands, a small part of the cost of a doula can be covered by some additional health insurance packages as part of birth cursus.

4. What is a birth doula? 

The term birth doula refers to the support of the doula given to a woman and her birthing partner during childbirth. The birth doula works with the rest of the birth team and assists the mother and partner throughout the whole birthing experience. Unlike the pregnancy & birth doula, the birth doula is only there during labour and birth.

5. What is a postpartum doula? 

A postpartum doula will help parents navigate their first weeks with the new baby. Life with a newborn can sometimes be overwhelming: a postpartum doula will come to your home and help you go through this intense period.

In general, a postpartum doula can:

  • Give advice on how to take care of your baby
  • Provide support and guidance with breastfeeding
  • Make sure you are on your way to recovery as a mother
  • Provide physical nurturing through massages and other comfort measures
  • Support both parents on their emotional journey to parenthood
  • Perform light household maintenance such as light cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, etc.
  • Cook nutritionally appropriate meals

Postpartum doulas support is usually tailored to your own needs and wishes. Make sure to discuss them with the postpartum doula you have chosen so you can make sure she is the right fit. They will share precious and intimate moments with you. Therefore, it is important you feel fully comfortable with them.   

6. What is the difference between a midwife and a doula? 

A doula has no medical training. While your midwife (or your doctor) is responsible of the medical care during pregnancy, labour, and birth, the purpose of the doula is to support you.

Doulas cannot practice clinical tasks, give medical advice or diagnosis, make decisions for you and take over the role of your partner. Instead, they will inform you, help you gain confidence, encourage and reassure you, provide comfort and pain relief measures, and generally help you and your partner keep a sense of calm and trust often leading to a safer labour and a more positive birth experience.

7. What kind of training do they follow?

Doulas usually follow a training that includes both theoretical and practical parts, allowing them to gather the knowledge and hands-on expertise to be able to assist birth in different settings. In the Netherlands, there are four main certifying organisations:

  • BiA Doula Training
  • Doula Academie
  • Doula Opleiding in Bloei
  • Opleiding tot Doula Utrecht

Major international certifying organisations also include DONA International or ICEA, just to name a few. Doulas can also follow different courses around birth and postpartum and often complement their practice with massages, breastfeeding advice, hypnobirthing, etc. Each doula has their own set of skills so you can always look for one who can combine the skills that match your needs.

8. What are the benefits of having a doula?

Several studies have been carried out to explore the benefits of having a doula. Many mention for instance the following potential positive outcomes [1]:

  • increased maternal engagement,
  • higher satisfaction with care,
  • lower prevalence of c-sections,
  • shorter labours,
  • lower use of pain medication
  • increase rates of breastfeeding.

For parents welcoming a baby in a foreign country, doulas can play an even bigger role, especially if they also speak the same language and/or share the same cultural background with the parents. For instance, they can help parents:

  • understand and navigate the local healthcare system
  • help communicate with the local medical team
  • provide clients with some connections to community support

9. I have also heard about holistic doulas – what does it mean?

All doulas offer physical and emotional support but the term holistic doula often refers to an approach considering mind, body, as well as spirit all together. If spirituality is an important aspect for you, you might want to look more specifically for a holistic doula.

[1] Sources:
. Sobczak A, Taylor L, Solomon S, Ho J, Kemper S, Phillips B, Jacobson K, Castellano C, Ring A, Castellano B, Jacobs RJ. The Effect of Doulas on Maternal and Birth Outcomes: A Scoping Review. Cureus. 2023 May 24;15(5):e39451. doi: 10.7759/cureus.39451. PMID: 37378162; PMCID: PMC10292163.
. Addressing Maternal Health Disparities: Doula Access in Medicaid, Elevence Health Report, September 2022 (accessible here)

Browse through our selection of trained doulas and get in touch now!

Want to get in touch or book an appointment now? Browse through our network of birth & pregnancy doulas and postpartum doulas, select the one who most closely meets your needs and get in touch or plan an appointment whenever suitable. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to our team at hello@parentally.nl. We are here to help!  

Looking for other types of pregnancy and birth support? Discover our childbirth educators, Hypnobirthing teachers or pregnancy coaches.

Pregnant in the Netherlands: a shortguide in 5 steps
Prenatal care in the Netherlands: what you need to know
How to choose your midwife
What is Kraamzorg? Everything you need to know
Pregnancy fatigue? Why am I so tired?

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