There are a lot of people who can be involved with the birth of your little one – from your partner, friends and family to the dozens of care team members who are with you every step of the way. But there’s yet another person you could choose to have supporting you – a doula.

Below, we explain the role of a doula, common types of doulas, the benefits of their services inside and outside the delivery room, and how to find one if you’re interested.

What is a doula?

A doula is someone who’s trained to provide one-on-one physical, emotional and informational support before, during and after a health event. Most commonly, doulas help expectant parents prepare for and go through childbirth.

What does a doula do?

What a doula does can vary. Many birth doulas describe their services as “full-spectrum,” meaning that they can help with everything – from conception and pregnancy to labor, delivery and the postpartum period. Other doulas specialize in certain parts of that spectrum.

It’s important to note that although doulas are professionally trained, they aren’t licensed medical professionals – they can’t provide diagnoses, second opinions or medical advice. Instead, their focus is helping you get as much information as possible, then supporting and advocating for the choices you make using that information.

Types of doulas

Antepartum (pregnancy) doulas

Antepartum doulas work with people who need extra help during pregnancy, generally due to pregnancy complications. Antepartum doulas specialize in providing emotional and educational support to help manage the stress of a high-risk pregnancy. For those with Medicaid insurance, antepartum doula support is covered.

Birth doulas

Birth doulas are what most people think of when they hear the word “doula”. Birth doulas are usually covered by Medicaid insurance and some private insurances. For those without insurance coverage, the cost is negotiated directly with the doula or their organization.

Birth doulas help people prepare for childbirth and give them continuous support through the whole process of labor and delivery. If you choose to work with a birth doula, you’ll generally meet with them before your due date to put together your birth plan, which is a written document detailing all of your preferences for the big day. You can give your birth plan to your care team as soon as it’s ready, and during labor your doula will help ensure that it’s followed as closely as possible.

This is one of the main forms of support that a birth doula provides – communication. As your personal advocate, their job is to make sure everyone in the room is on the same page as you, and that you have all the information you need to make informed decisions throughout your labor.

The rest of the support that a birth doula provides is generally emotional and physical. They’ll of course be giving you encouragement, but they can also help you manage your labor with non-medical pain relief techniques, such as guided breathing, massage and position changes.

Postpartum doulas

Doulas who specialize in the postpartum period can be especially valuable for new parents. Like fertility doulas, they can help you with relevant, evidence-based information. During the postpartum time, a doula can be helpful for navigating topics like recovering from birth and bonding with your baby. Many postpartum doulas are certified lactation counselors too, so they can help you begin breastfeeding. Again, for those with Medicaid insurance, postpartum doula support is covered.

Other types of doulas

While doulas are most often part of the pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum experience, some do provide support people as they try to conceive or after a loss.

For example, fertility doulas support people through the process of trying to conceive and can be particularly helpful for those who may be experiencing signs of infertility, and miscarriage doulas help women and their partners through pregnancy loss.

The cost for these other types of doula services aren’t covered by Medicaid, nor typically covered by private insurances.

What’s the difference between a doula and a midwife?

There’s a big difference between a doula and a midwife. Doulas can provide many different forms of support, but again, they are not licensed health professionals. So they can’t actually deliver your baby or provide other direct forms of care, but a certified nurse-midwife can.

Studies suggest that continuous support during labor and delivery, such as what a doula provides, can have positive effects for mother and baby. These may include:.

  • Higher rates of birth satisfaction – A large part of a doula’s job is to make sure that your wishes and feelings are honored throughout labor and delivery. This kind of advocacy and support often results in a happier, more fulfilling birth experience.
  • Lower rates of medical intervention – For some women, a doula’s presence, advocacy and focus on nonmedical pain management reduces the need for pain medication. In some cases, pain medication can interfere with contractions, so using less may reduce the chances of needing a medically assisted vaginal birth (such as with a vacuum or forceps) or cesarean section.
  • Lower rates of maternal mortality – Studies have shown that women of color in the United States, particularly Black women, have a higher risk of pregnancy complications than White women. At the same time, women of color are also less likely to receive all of the care that they need from their care team. A doula’s presence during labor and delivery can help offset these factors.

How do you find a doula?

Many doula-certifying organizations have matching tools on their websites, allowing you to search for doulas by location, specialty and other filters.

But depending on your insurance plan, your provider may specify which doula services are covered. For those who have Medicaid in Minnesota, for example, the state’s department of health maintains the Minnesota Doula Registry, which includes lists of Medicaid-registered doulas in the state and the national organizations that certify them.

Health companies often work with local doula organizations. At HealthPartners, we connect our Minnesota plan members to doulas through Everyday Miracles, which has its headquarters in Minneapolis.

Are doulas covered by insurance?

As we mentioned earlier, some insurance plans cover doula services. Oftentimes coverage includes emotional and physical support before childbirth, during labor and delivery, and postpartum.

HealthPartners MinnesotaCare and Medicaid members can work with a birth doula for free. If you’re a HealthPartners MinnesotaCare or Medicaid member, you can call 866-885-8880 (TTY 711) to begin your no-cost doula process. Volunteer doulas are also available at some of our birth centers.

In cases where insurance won’t cover doula services, it’s still possible to have one involved in your pregnancy, labor and delivery. You can make support and payment arrangements directly with a doula or team of doulas of your choosing.

Have your birth, your way

A doula is a lot more than a breathing coach and another source of encouragement on your big day. A doula can help you take charge of your pregnancy health, ensure that your birth experience is as close as possible to your ideal and support you through your first weeks postpartum.