Do you need a doula?

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Imagine that you just had a baby. Imagine that you’re tired, sore, overwhelmed and secretly terrified to be a new mom. Then picture a kind, calm, experienced woman knocking on your door and saying, “I’m here to help you.”

Now imagine your relief.

What is a doula?

Doula is the Greek word for “maidservant.” In ancient times, well-to-do Greeks had a doula that helped the women of the household.

Today, a doula is a trained professional who provides physical, emotional and informational support to a woman, her partner and family, before, during and after childbirth.

“A doula is like the mom, mother-in-law or auntie that gives extra hands,” says Michelle Kinzel, who has been a doula with the Pittsburgh Doula Network for 15 years. “Our job is to ‘mother’ the mother.”

What does a doula do?

There are two types of doulas: birth doulas and postpartum doulas.

Birth doula

A birth doula understands the physiology of birth and the emotional needs of a woman in labor, according to DONA International, a widely respected nonprofit organization that provides education and training to doulas around the world.

A birth doula helps an expectant mother prepare for birth and stays with her throughout her labor. The doula meets with the expectant mother and partner several months before the baby’s due date in order to address questions or concerns and develop a birth plan. For example, if the mother expresses a desire to have an un-medicated birth, the doula will be mindful of that and will help her carry out her plan. During labor, the doula can light candles or play music as requested, suggest positions and changes to help ease pain, and provide continual reassurance and encouragement.

Doulas are not medical personnel and do not give medical advice, but can facilitate communication with the doctors, nurses, and midwives who provide medical care during birth.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are documented benefits of having a doula present during labor. With the support of a doula, women were “less likely to have pain-relief medications administered and less likely to have a cesarean birth.”

Postpartum doula

The most widely-used type of doula is for postpartum services during the newborn period, from birth until about week 12.

During the day, a postpartum doula can do light housekeeping, such as sweeping, vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen, preparing light meals, or getting dinner started. A doula can also help take care of older siblings by keeping them entertained or quiet if the mother is resting.

For the parent(s) of a newborn, sleep can be one of life’s most precious commodities.

“A lot of our clients want a doula at night, so they can rest,” says Michelle.

While the parent(s) sleep, a postpartum doula will diaper, rock, feed and comfort the little one. If the mother is breastfeeding, the doula will bring the baby to the mother for as long as the little one needs to nurse, then retrieve the baby to give mom as little disruption as possible to her night’s sleep.

Especially if the mother had any difficulties with labor and delivery, a doula is there to help, nurture and care for mom by reminding her to eat, bringing her meals and snacks, and making sure she’s drinking enough fluids.

Doulas and postpartum depression

In many cultures, new mothers are revered and treated with special attention and consideration as they recover from childbirth. In Western countries, women tend to think they have to be Super Moms and bounce back after childbirth in a few days.

Valerie Lynn, author of The Mommy Plan: Restoring Your Post-pregnancy Body Naturally Using Women’s Traditional Wisdom, writes, “In Western countries the notion of a ‘resting period’ after childbirth is deemed an extravagant and self-indulgent act by a mother. I find this generalized opinion to be uninformed, outdated and baseless when there is an overabundance of statistics indicating some of the highest rates of postpartum-related illnesses belong to high income or developed countries, such as the United States.”

Mild depression affects approximately 50% of new mothers and 10 to 20 percent of new moms will develop postpartum depression, which is more serious and can interfere with daily life.

“A doula can be very instrumental in helping women who are experiencing postpartum depression. In some cases, doctors suggest that the mother get help from a doula,” says Michelle.

Doulas don’t treat postpartum depression, but by nurturing and caring for the mother, they relieve some of the pressure and help the mother ease into her responsibilities after childbirth, which can reduce the risk of postpartum depression, as studies consistently show.

How much does a doula cost?

Most services charge a flat fee, typically $1,000 and up, for a birth doula, which may include pre and/or post-birth meetings, in addition to the entire duration of the mother’s labor. One local service, Shining Light Doulas, offers doulas that work in pairs for both pregnancy and birth.

The fee to hire a postpartum doula ranges from approximately $18 to $30 an hour, which is a fantastic baby shower gift for any mom-to-be.

For more information or to find a local doula, please contact:

  • Pittsburgh Doula Network, (412) 901-9568
  • Heart to Heart Doula Service (412) 716-8163
  • Shining Light Doulas, a service of Shining Light Prenatal Education, (412) 915-6167 and (412) 690-0678
  • Dona International (888) 788-DONA (3662)


Local author and speaker, Ann K. Howley, writes about her unique and amusing perspective of Pittsburgh and motherhood in her Mom About the Burgh Blog at