Doulas can sound like mythical maternity fairies who are there to use their healing powers for whatever the pregnant person needs to make labor and delivery easier. Some people say doulas are "like travel guides in a foreign land," but that's actually only half of it.
Doulas provide non-medical labor and birth support, and they can also spend time helping people before and after they give birth, says Grace Nowakoski, a certified doula and owner of HELD Doula Services. It's not medically necessary to have a doula present when you give birth — and choosing to have or not have one is a totally personal decision — but doulas can provide a lot of comfort and knowledge to the experience of giving birth that you won't always find at the hospital or within your own circle of family and friends.
"Doulas have the gift of focusing on all the emotional stuff and the journey in a grander sense," says Mariel Lugosch-Ecker, a certified doula for Open Hands Doula Care. "We get to become versed in the dynamics of pregnancy and birth and postpartum, and the emotional journey of pregnancy and birth."
Your Ob/Gyn and medical providers have a limited amount of time with you before you give birth, and even with the most emotionally aware doctor, you might not have the same connection with them that you do with your doula. Doulas generally help you create a birth plan that works for you, and allow you to drive the conversations. "With doula prenatal visits, it's really about whatever you want to talk about," Nowakoski says. You can tell your doula about a weird birth thing that you heard happen to someone or a thing that stressed you out about work. Of course, you could learn about birth from a class, books, or the internet, but it can be nice to talk to someone who's going to be there with you when it's your turn, she says.
Doulas end up getting to know you intimately, and that's sort of the point. "There's a baseline of trust and familiarity, which is really helpful when you're going through birth, which is so different from most things we do in our lives, physically and emotionally," Nowakoski says. And while they aren't there to catch and deliver your baby alone, they do know a ton about birth. Here are some insights about childbirth that only a doula could tell you.