New parents often have to rely on books, family, and the internet to figure out life with their new bundle of joy. But there's more than that available now, as virtual doula services change the landscape of maternity care by electronically connecting new parents with certified doulas to provide support leading up to and throughout the fourth trimester. Here's what you need to know.
What is a doula?
A doula is a nonmedical expert explicitly trained to provide physical and emotional support to a mother before, during, and after childbirth. Services include birth planning and labor assistance, like position changes and breathing techniques, and postpartum support for breastfeeding, postnatal body care, baby care, and the emotional ups and downs of being a new mom.
Traditionally, doula services are carried out in person, with doulas attending doctor appointments, assisting during the birth, and visiting mommy and baby afterward at home. However, there is a growing number of doulas now offering their services virtually via videos sessions and texting, giving them the ability to support families regardless of location, time, or hospital restrictions.
What are a doula's qualifications?
Doulas are certified through birth work agencies like DONA International, Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association, ProDoula, and Birth Arts International. Certifications include Certified Labor Doula, Certified Postpartum Doula, Certified Childbirth Educator, and Certified Midwife Assistant. Many have additional certifications or training in lactation, perinatal depression and anxiety, pregnancy fitness, infant care, and babywearing.
What are the benefits of using a doula?
Research has shown that using a birth doula can result in shorter duration of labor, decrease in cesarian births, and decrease in use of Pitocin or pain medication. Furthermore, doulas have proven to be particularly helpful to socially disadvantaged mothers at risk for adverse birth outcomes, resulting in a decrease in birth complications for mother and baby, a decrease in low-birth-weight babies, and an increase in the ability to initiate breastfeeding.
Nicole Williams, a birth doula and certified health and wellness coach in New Jersey, explains that doulas can help even the odds for black women, who are two to six times more likely to die during childbirth than white women, by listening to the mother and speaking up on her behalf when she feels like something is wrong. "There are times when these cries can go unheard, and doulas serve as effective advocates and liaisons between the parents and medical staff," she told POPSUGAR.
Mandy Major, PCD, co-founder and CEO of postpartum doula agency Major Care, says the service fills an important gap in the system of postpartum care for new parents. "When you look at our current setup, you basically have established medical care on one side, like ob-gyns and pediatricians, and well-intentioned strangers in online groups on the other," she told POPSUGAR. "The former is not trained and/or on call to help you with your day-to-day questions, and the latter is very helpful and useful but not always providing accurate information."
How do virtual services differ from traditional in-person services?
Many doulas have been offering virtual services for years, as a way to be more accessible to their clients regardless of distance or time of day/night. Hospital and social restrictions due to COVID-19, as well as an overall increased need for convenient support, has resulted in more families opting for virtual care over in-person care.
Ursula Sukinik, CD, CDT, CMA, CBE, CLC, founder and CEO of Birth You Desire, says one of the most impactful benefits of virtual services is the ability to check in with clients and see what's happening in real time without having to travel to homes or hospitals. Her agency adopted a virtual component 10 years ago to be present with clients during medical procedures or tests (IVF, ECV, etc.), routine and non-routine doctor visits, and early labor, as well as in the event of emergency situations like snow and ice storms. "We can literally be with you at all times," she says.
Chelisa Clifton CLD, CPD, CBE, NCS, a doula in Cincinnati, offers both in-person and virtual services. She told POSUGAR the biggest drawback to virtual services is not being able to physically help with position changes during labor or allowing mom to sleep while she cares for the baby once they're home from the hospital.
However, she says a benefit to virtual services is that in her absence, she leans on the partner to be her hands, instructing him/her on how to rub mom's lower back, cool her head, or reposition her for more comfort. "This not only provides the physical touch that's so important during labor, but also allows the couple to experience birth in a very empowered, intimate way," she explains to POPSUGAR.
Ursula has received similar feedback from clients that partners are enjoying being more involved during labor. "These same partners report that it is easier for them to bond with their babies due to being 'on' during the birth," she says.
How do virtual doula services work?
Service models and pricing vary per doula and agency. Most doulas offer different virtual birth and/or postpartum packages that include a set number of calls/video sessions. Some also offer unlimited text/email.
For example, Williams, in New Jersey, offers a straightforward fee per virtual session model, while Clifton's Full-Service Virtual Birth Doula package in Cincinnati costs $600, and includes a combination of prenatal video sessions, text/email support, on-call phone support during labor, and a postpartum video session. With Major Care, you choose between three different care plans, starting at $4.90 per day, that offer a variety of options including texting and video postpartum support.
It is important to find a doula that meets your needs and brings you comfort. DONA International, Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association, and Birth Arts International all offer directories to help you find a qualified doula.