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Parenting

What Doulas Really Wish You Knew About Their Jobs

Let's start with the difference between a doula and a midwife.

It’s time to ditch the idea that being a doula means being a so-called “hippie” or having a “crunchy granola” lifestyle.

Although signs abound that the demand for doulas has increased in recent years, there are still many misconceptions associated with this role. We talked with three doulas to learn what they wish other people knew about their jobs and services. Here’s what they had to say.

Doulas are not midwives.

All three mentioned this as the first major misconception about their jobs. They explained that in simple terms, midwives are health care professionals and offer medical support, while doulas are more like coaches who make sure the person giving birth is comfortable in a variety of ways.

“We don’t do anything medical or clinical,” said Jennifer Mayer, a birth doula with more than 12 years of experience and founder of the New York doula organization Baby Caravan. “We’re here for emotional, physical and informational support.”

Doulas and midwives are not the same. Midwives offer medical expertise, while doulas (like Justine Temke, above) provide support to ensure their clients are comfortable.
Doulas and midwives are not the same. Midwives offer medical expertise, while doulas (like Justine Temke, above) provide support to ensure their clients are comfortable.

Mayer added that doulas also advocate for the person giving birth and their families.

“We’re not a medical professional and that gives us a unique way to work with clients,” she said. “We can help them advocate for themselves and make sure they’re asking their providers the right questions ― not that we’re going to disagree with the providers, but just normal patient advocacy.”

Staci Baker and Justine Temke are co-founders of Midwest Doulas in St. Paul, Minnesota, with about 10 years of combined doula experience between them. They further explained the role of a doula vs. a health care professional.

“Doulas are there for emotional support and comfort techniques, where the OB and the midwife are very much the medical team making sure everyone is healthy,” Temke said.

Birth doulas aren’t the only type of doulas.

Birth doulas offer support while a person is preparing to give birth and during the birth. Many people think their role ends there. There are, however, postpartum doulas, who help families adjust to life with a new child, and sibling doulas, who take care of the older kids and help them transition to the role of big brother or sister.

“What we are here for is to make sure you feel empowered to make your own decisions, and that’s essential.”

- Justine Temke, co-founder of Midwest Doulas

Birth doulas also do more than simply comfort the person giving birth.

“Our job is beyond the physical support and presence that we provide,” Mayer said. “We can make recommendations for different health providers or find an acupuncturist or chiropractor or schedule other things after the baby is born. Doulas are really useful.”

Not all doulas are “hippies” or have a “crunchy granola” lifestyle.

This stereotype has been perpetuated in the media for years, stemming from the widespread lack of understanding of a doula’s actual role.

“There’s a misconception that we’re all crunchy and unicorn-riding,” Temke said. “But it’s really a beautiful community with a lot of different doulas, like a ‘crunchy’ doula or a chiropractor doula. The main point of a doula is to support you and whatever your family needs. There’s a doula out there that matches that.”

Doulas don’t detest modern medicine.

“I’d love to clarify that most doulas don’t hate doctors or hate epidurals or anything like that,” Mayer said.

She said she’s found that most doctors are happy to work with doulas, and that some even say doulas make their job easier.

Baker and Temke clarified that doulas aren’t hired to go against the medical team and that their crew at Midwest Doulas does not agree to help with births that do not have medical assistance.

For some, being a doula isn’t just a hobby.

Many doulas assist families as their full-time jobs.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve seen a huge movement of actual professionals who are heavily trained and certified and don’t do this as a side job or just a hobby,” Temke said. “That’s their job and they’re passionate about it.”

A typical day for a full-time doula is anything but scheduled or organized.

“That’s one thing we help our clients through, the uncertainty that everyone faces at the end of pregnancy,” Mayer said. “You don’t know when the baby is going to be born, you don’t know how long the labor will last. ... It’s super stressful, all the unknowns, but that’s how we live our lives.”

Doulas do not replace partners.

Many partners may feel that having a doula will push them out of the birthing process, but most doulas are there to support the whole family, not only the person giving birth.

“We create the space for the partner to be able to evolve to his or her liking,” Temke said, adding, “There’s a weird misconception that every partner should know how to react to the birthing person, but it’s not true. If you’re emotionally connected to the birthing person, it’s hard to see your loved one going through that.”

Similarly, doulas aren’t making decisions for the person giving birth.

“What we are here for is to make sure you feel empowered to make your own decisions, and that’s essential,” Temke said.