Doula decision

Only a decade ago, many new parents still asked, “What’s a doula?” 

Today, the decision to hire a doula (or not) is as commonplace as the decision to register for a floor gym, a bouncy seat, a Mobi wrap or an Ergo carrier. 

The thing is, you can’t just pick up a doula at Babies R Us!

Where do you find a doula? And — more importantly — how do you find the right doula?

Doulas: Defined

Let’s start from the beginning.

The most basic definition of the word doula is a woman who supports another woman. (The word has Greek roots meaning female slave.) 

Most people think a doula is a woman who supports women during childbirth. This is true!

However, in addition to a birth doula, a family might hire an antepartum doula (present primarily before the birth) and also a postpartum doula (present after the birth). 

A woman facing medical bed rest during pregnancy might hire an antepartum doula to serve the family in the home as they wait for Baby’s arrival, providing emotional support, help with light housework, meal prep, rides to the doctor and assistance talking through medical decisions.

A postpartum doula similarly helps in the home and provides many of the same services as well as support pertaining to the new baby. This support includes baby care while the parents sleep, lactation counseling and newborn education. 

Many would argue that postpartum doula care is even more valuable than birth doula care, as it comes at a time when the new parents are scared, depleted and especially sleep-deprived.

What does a doula cost?

Though it’s possible to find a woman who’s been trained as an antepartum doula, a birth doula and a postpartum doula, most doulas lean toward one area of expertise. 

Current doula rates in Minnesota range from $600 to $1,400 (for a birth doula package) and $25 to $40 per hour for postpartum or antepartum doula care. Check with your insurance provider to see if you might be eligible for reimbursement. See Holistically Loved for tips.

Doulas are different from midwives and doctors in that they’re non-medical personnel trained to serve and support the family. 

They should have a deep understanding of all medical procedures, however, and can help the family sort through decisions in an unbiased way. 

It's common for postpartum doulas to provide minor home-care tasks such as changing C-section bandages or handling a newborn who’s on an apnea monitor. 

Beyond tasks like these, which are part of the family’s routine, a doula will not perform medical procedures. She will not, unless in an emergency, help catch the baby or make decisions relating to Mom or Baby’s health, though she might make recommendations.

Shop around 

Within these simple definitions are different types of doulas who are particularly good at different things. Some postpartum doulas excel at cooking and nutrition; others are especially skilled with toddlers and sibling rivalry; some specialize in multiples, and so on. 

Some birth doulas are trained in massage, others hypnosis and others have experience supporting VBAC.

This is why expectant parents need to shop for a doula as they would any important family purchase — because each newborn experience happens only once and deserves to be tailor-made. 

“Always, always, always interview at least three doulas. This is my hard and fast rule for all,” said Sarah Longacre, a doula, pre-/postnatal yoga instructor and founder of Minneapolis-based Blooma. “You need a backup. And you and your partner have to see that there are different types of doulas before making a choice.”

Anne Ferguson, a Twin Cities-based certified birth and postpartum doula and childbirth educator with Bywater Birth, recommends hiring a birth doula as soon as possible.

“Your birth doula can help you pick a doctor or midwife who fits your needs, can suggest which birth location is best for you, can suggest which type of childbirth education class you’d enjoy most and can answer questions that come up all throughout pregnancy,” she said. 

A doula can also help parents plan out postpartum care and perhaps even help in selecting a postpartum doula.

Though a doula match made earlier during pregnancy allows the relationship to grow and develop, it’s never too late. You can still find an amazing birth or postpartum doula in your third trimester.

Kara Schultz of Maple Grove hired a doula — Brook Holmberg with Boreal Birth of Minneapolis — to help before, during and after the birth of her son.

“Brook’s guidance started during pregnancy, through the many nights of prodromal labor, the birth and all the way through postpartum care with nursing — and balancing life as a beautiful family of four,” Schultz said. 

Beginning the search

There are many different places to find doulas! It’s a good idea to explore different avenues and gather multiple leads. Scheduling conflicts might mean that not every doula is available for your estimated delivery date and/or time of postpartum recovery.

Start making your list with your own resources — your friends. Who did they use and why? Write down the names. 

“Ask your care provider for cards and names,” Longacre said. “If they are good care providers, they will have them. If they don’t have any doulas to recommend, you might think about changing providers. They might not be doula-friendly.”

Talk to your chiropractor, your general practitioner, your yoga teacher. Do they work with any particular doulas? Keep writing down names. 

The Childbirth Collective — a non-profit collective of doulas and other birth professionals based in Minnesota — is a must in your search. Twice a month the group offers All About Doulas nights to give families a chance to meet and mingle with several local doulas. 

Blooma, which offers yoga, barre, prenatal education and other services to mamas, can provide a well-vetted list of experienced doulas and boasts several certified doulas on staff, too. 

Finding a match

Keep meeting doulas until the partnership feels right. You may have a checklist of skills and credentials you want your doula to possess, but a lot of your decision making will come down to what you feel in your gut. Is this the person I want to attend the birth of my child? Is this the person I want in my home during postpartum?

Crista Jeske, an Apple Valley mom of three, found a doula for her third child’s birth at a Childbirth Collective event. 

“I was intent on getting someone who knew about the baby-positioning technique of belly mapping,” Jeske said. “After meeting a few of them, I saw a quieter person in the room, who for some reason seemed right.”

Jeske ended up interviewing two doulas — the quiet woman from the Childbirth Collective and also a new doula serving as an intern at the Minnesota Birth Center, where she was planning to birth. 

Many birth centers, hospitals and doula agencies offer pro-bono services or reduced rates for doulas who are new to the field and lack extensive hands-on experience. It’s an ideal option for families on a budget. These doulas, while lacking in years, are freshly trained and eager to work. Their enthusiasm is a reasonable trade-off for where they fall short in experience.

Know that doulas go through interviews every day, every week, year round. 

You won’t hurt a doula’s feelings if you don’t choose her. A good doula (always supportive of a woman’s needs) will want you to find that perfect match, whatever that means. Likewise, a good doula is trained to decline a client offer if she doesn’t feel she’s the right doula for the job. Reasons why a doula might decline work include compatibility, overscheduling or inexperience with high-risk pregnancies and/or health-compromised newborns.

Going with a team

Not all doulas work solo. All doulas should have a list of emergency back-ups should two moms go into labor at the same time. Some doulas take this concept to the next level and work as a team. That means you can hire a pair or group of doulas, making sure you’re OK with any member of the team. While this might not offer the same benefits of a one-on-one relationship, knowing you have coverage you trust can provide peace of mind. 

Doula agencies also employ a team model of care. 

This is actually more important in postpartum doula care, as there are more hours, days and weeks of work to fill — particularly with multiples. In the case of postpartum care, it may be common (and wise) to hire a pair, team or agency. 

You would likely receive care from only two or three doulas, but you’ll have the knowledge that you can count on the postpartum care, rest and support you need.

With the agency and team model of care, you can still find yourself with that just-right doula by having a hand in the selection process. Most teams and agencies also take the doula placement process very seriously, wanting each and every client to be thrilled with their care. 

Tory Kielas-Jensen, the director at Welcome Baby Care, serves as the postpartum doula agency’s official matchmaker. 

“I meet with parents in their home before any services begin,” she said. “I answer their questions and learn about their family and their specific needs. I pick a couple of doulas who I think will match well with them.”

Before sending a new doula to the home, she sends the family a photo and bio of the doula. 

“We then like the family to meet each doula I have matched them with during the first week of care,” she said. “From then on, I am the point person, which can be really nice for the new parents. If a family feels their doula is not a good fit, they don’t have to have an awkward conversation. They just talk to me.”

What are you looking for?

Again, this is mostly a gut feeling. However, there are practical things you’ll want to brainstorm with your partner, which will eventually form your interview questions. (See the sidebar for some ideas.)  

What are your deal-breakers? What are your must-haves? At the end of the day, YOU are in control of your own experience. You will welcome your child lovingly and you will do GREAT — and if you take the time to meet a few doulas, you will find a great support team, too! 


Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula and writer who now works in marketing and communications. She lives in St. Paul with her two kids, her two cats and her husband. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.