What doulas CAN and CAN’T do for you

Sometimes I run across some confusion about what doulas can and can’t do for a client. Doulas possess knowledge and skills that are very different from that of a midwife, nurse, or OB. Although some of the skills might overlap between these roles, there are very clear boundaries that doulas follow in order to keep themselves and their clients safe throughout their relationship together.

Things doulas CAN do for you:

Help you stay motivated

Doulas are wonderful cheerleaders for labor. We have lots of tools to help you stay motivated during labor, including position changes, affirmations, and lots of comforting touch.

Act as a sounding board

We’ve supported lots of births and helped families through many different types of birthing situations. We are well-versed in the risks and benefits of various interventions. We can help you navigate those situations by acting as your sounding board.

Facilitate communication with the birth team

Some of our best work happens before we even meet you. We’ve already worked to build trusting relationships with hospital staff, midwives, and OBs. We know who our favorite nurses and care providers are (those tend to be the ones who support our clients in their birth goals). We are able to help you know which questions to ask to get the answers you need during your healthcare visits as well as during labor.

Give you as much or as little info as you want

We meet you where you are. We are great listeners, and we stay with you on your journey. We do not push you into things, and we do not tell you what we think you should do. If you want information about birth to the very last detail, we can provide that. If you’d rather not know certain things, we won’t force it.

Things doulas CAN’T do for you

Make decisions for you

Doulas can’t make decisions for you. As educated as we might be, we are NOT medical care providers. We do not make decisions about your medical care, and we do not encourage you to make decisions that go against medical advice. We can share information, act as your sounding board, and encourage you to trust your instincts, but all decisions are ultimately up to you.

Protect you from a bad care provider

We can’t battle with bad care providers, and we can’t stop them from performing unnecessary interventions. We can’t stop them from treating you badly. We can’t do anything that would cause us to get kicked out of the room or burn bridges for the next clients. If you feel like you need protection, don’t just hire a doula. LEAVE! There are plenty of amazing care providers out there.

Guarantee a certain birth outcome

As wonderful as doulas are, and we’ve all read the research, we really don’t have magical unicorn dust that gives people certain birth outcomes. Can we help stack the odds in your favor of having the birth you want? Absolutely! Maybe our tricks help prolong an epidural so that you have the natural birth of your dreams. Maybe our corny jokes didn’t give you a VBAC, but perhaps you had an empowered repeat Cesarean birth that helped you feel healed. Maybe we helped you feel brave and confident instead of alone and afraid. Maybe we helped you feel like someone in the room had your back instead of feeling like you were abandoned. But we can’t guarantee that your birth will go the way you want. No one can do that. There are too many variables at play, including just plain ole dumb luck.

Provide medical care

We can’t perform vaginal exams, interpret fetal heart tones, or diagnose problems, but we can prepare you with what questions to ask your care provider to get the answers you need. We can supply reading material and research and role play various common scenarios you may encounter during pregnancy and labor. A doula that is performing these clinical tasks is no longer acting in the role of a doula. They may now be acting as a monitrice, midwife’s assistant, or nurse, but once clinical tasks are involved, they are no longer acting as a doula.

The boundaries that doulas follow may have slight variations from doula to doula, so knowing what potential doulas believe about boundaries will help you find the perfect doula for you.


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