Once you see those double lines on a pregnancy test, it soon will be time to make some important decisions about who you want on your team when it’s the big day. Do you want to deliver at home with a midwife, or in a hospital with doctors and nurses? Maybe your friends have talked to you about their doula and birth coach. But is there a difference between a doula and a birth coach? Choosing your team can be confusing if you aren't sure who has the skills you need.
A doula is a professional who provides emotional and physical support to a woman who is expecting, in labor, or postpartum, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), and the term doula is often used interchangeably with the term birth coach, because a doula is there to encourage and provide support during your pregnancy and after, “coaching” and educating you through the process.
Because the terms can be used interchangeably, according to the APA, it's more important to find someone you trust to be your doula and birth coach than what their official title is. Just make sure they're certified. Doulas/birth coaches go through certified training to learn how to "coach" you through the process of giving birth, in addition to being a helping hand to hold and comfort.
Liza Maltz, a birth and postpartum doula, tells Romper that a doula is supposed to be there for you throughout your pregnancy and to provide a different sense of support and help than your doctors and their team. “Doctors come in and check on you, nurses change shifts, but your doula is there in consistent support,” she says in an email interview. “A doula is there to work alongside your doctors and nurses.”
A doula is also focused on you and your labor pains. “She is there for every breath, and through every surge to comfort you with massage and help you find the right positions, moving you to keep labor flowing,” Maltz says. The APA noted that a doula acts as an advocate for a mother, encouraging her and helping her fulfill “specific desires she might have for her birth . . . and to help her experience a positive and safe birth,” whether it’s unmedicated or not.
Doulas provide pain relief by helping you with breathing techniques, massage, labor positions that aren’t just on your back with your feet in stirrups, and other techniques to get you through the pain, too. They can also help your partner be present and help you during the process (so you hopefully don’t hate them as much during every contraction).
The APA quoted a review, “Continuous Support for Women During Childbirth,” which found that with the support of a doula, women asked for less pain relief medications and were less likely to have a C-section.
As for after the baby is born, a doula can help you with the new mom process, including breastfeeding if you choose to, and support you by encouraging and implementing bonding time between you and your new baby.
So whether you refer to them as a birth coach or a doula, they're definitely one person you may want to consider having in your corner. Whether you're about to give birth or are already a few weeks postpartum, this support can truly help you (and your partner) with the overwhelming process of becoming parents.