All around the country, more expectant mothers are hiring doulas. In a 2013 survey by Listening to Mothers, 6% of the 2,400 mothers polled reported using a doula between 2011 and 2012, which doubled from 2005. While a small percentage of people are adding doulas to their birth support teams – often due to a lack of access or confusion around what these trained companions do – their growth during pregnancy and births have got a lot of women asking themselves, “what is a doula” and “should I hire one?” Considering Latinas’ and Latin American women’s long relationship with doulas, we decided to answer some of the most common questions people have about these birth coaches.

So, what is a doula?

Doulas, who are sometimes called birth coaches, support moms-to-be. They have often been described as the person on a birth team that “mothers the mother.” During pregnancy, childbirth and after delivery, the doula acts as a coach and cheerleader, attending to your needs and providing you with education while encouraging and empowering you to make your own decisions around your pregnancy and sometimes serving as a liaison between you and your medical team. Essentially, they’re there to make sure your pregnancy and childbirth aren’t just safe but also as comfortable and empowering for you as possible.

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How do they do this?

Doulas set you up for success by ensuring you are comfortable and confident. During labor, they coach you on breathing, relaxation, movement and positioning. They offer verbal and physical support through massages and counter-pressure. They also assist anxious or overjoyed families gather all the information they need. Following the birth of your child, they ensure you are getting enough sleep, eating healthy and taking all the time you need to fully recover and be the mom you want to be. Most doulas provide three prenatal visits, support during labor and one to two postpartum visits, as well as unlimited phone, text and email support. However, some independent doulas might be more available to you before and after your pregnancy.

What are the benefits of having a doula?

While the biggest benefit of having a doula is knowing that you have a cheerleader with your best interest at heart on your corner, studies have shown that the presence of doulas can have other positive effects. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, studies show that labor support from a doula helps improve labor and delivery. The presence of doulas has shown to cut labor time by 50%, decrease the need for a c-section by 51% and reduce the need for epidural anesthesia use by 60%. Even more, women who use doulas report being more satisfied with their birth experiences than those who don’t.

Is this a new trend?

Not at all. Birth coaches are not new and actually have a long, deep and beautiful history in Latin America and the Caribbean (as well as in other Black and Indigenous communities). For centuries, doulas, alongside midwives, have offered support to expectant and new mothers, encouraging them, massaging them, bathing them, cooking for them and caring for their newborns to ensure that mothers get needed rest and breaks. While the use of doulas have declined since the emergence of hospital-based births in the early 20th century, doulas continue to have a significant presence across Latin America and the Caribbean. Ask your mom and abuelita! It’s very likely that they or someone they know worked with a birth coach back in their home country.

What kind of training do doulas require?

While there is no legal training required of doulas, most undergo 30 hours of classes and must attend two to five births in order to receive certification through various programs across the country.

How much do doulas cost?

While some doulas provide their services pro bono, most charge anywhere between $500 to $3,500, depending on their experience, certification and offerings. Understanding that these prices can be steep for some, particularly vulnerable communities who are at higher risk of infant or maternal mortality, community-based doulas have been springing up in recent years to provide more affordable services to low-income families. Some offer discounted rates, sliding scales or work for organizations that provide financial aid.

Where can I find a doula?

While finding a doula can be as easy as searching online, especially on doula training programs and parenting organizations, some people feel safer with word-of-mouth recommendations. Luckily, there are plenty of people willing and able to help you find the right doula for you. Consider asking for recommendations at maternity centers, ob-gyn offices or even yoga studios. Oftentimes, you’ll also be able to schedule a free in-person or phone consultation with prospective doulas to decide if they’re a good fit for you or not.