Since you are reading this blog it’s probably safe to assume that you know what a doula is, and you probably have an understanding of the main “types” of doulas available, the most popular ones being birth and postpartum doulas. But what you may not know is that doulas tend to have their own “specialties”, their own “areas of expertise”, and they tend to get a lot of experience helping families with specific situations and needs.
So as you begin the process of researching and interviewing potential doualas, I encourage you to think about which needs you are hoping to have filled, and get more specific with your search. All doulas can provide support to you and your family, we are a knowledgeable group capable of flexibility, unwavering care, and information. However, you might find a better connection with someone experienced with your individual needs.
Let’s start with general categories:
This is usually a specialty where the entire business is focused on providing postpartum care. While the majority of birth packages offer a postpartum visit, the experience is different and more in-depth with a postpartum doula there to support you for longer hours or overnight.
They provide similar care as postpartum doulas, but while you are still pregnant! Typically antepartum care is sought out during high-risk situations, or when the woman does not have a lot of support in her life. They can help women on bedrest, accompany her to doctor appointments, care for other children, and help around the house.
*I personally recommend an antepartum doula for teen mothers.
The birth services offered are pretty standardized and include a 30 minute free consultation, 1-2 prenatal appointments, support during labor, and 1-2 postpartum appointments. Generally, birth doulas are comfortable supporting women in hospital, birth center, and home births, and are knowledgeable in both medicated and unmedicated births. But what sets doulas apart from one another is where they focus their attention, the types of clients they work with the most often, and their personal experiences.
Below are some of the most common doula specialties:
1) Teen Moms
Their needs are unique, their support systems can vary, and often these are unplanned pregnancies which brings up unique challenges. A doula who works with a lot of teen moms will likely be well connected to other resources in the community and their packages typically involve more prenatal and postpartum visits.
2) First Time Moms
Supporting women who have never given birth before usually involves more childbirth education during prenatal appointments than some of the other specialties.
3) VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean)
If you are hoping for a VBAC you will need an entire birth team that supports you and is knowledgeable about VBACs, and this includes your doctor or midwife, nurses, family, and your doula.
4) Previous Losses, or Expecting a Loss
Sometimes called “bereavement doulas.” This is one of the only specialties that offers specific training which teaches doulas more about grief, loss, and healing.
5) Unmedicated Births in Hospitals
Depending on the culture of the hospital you are delivering in, you may need additional support to help you navigate an unmedicated hospital birth. Some hospitals “push” medications right away, or offer them as soon as you moan loudly during contractions, it can get in your head and the support of someone who truly believes you can have an unmedicated birth can make a big difference.
6) Low Income Families
Challenges that women face can vary from one socioeconomic status to another, and if you are from a lower SES you will want to seek a doula who often works with low income families because 1) their prices are usually discounted, and 2) they often come from low-income backgrounds and have a good understanding of your unique challenges.
7) "Crunchy" Moms
If you live a life free of chemicals and medications and prefer more holistic experiences, you will likely want to find a doula who is well-versed in baby wearing, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, essential oils, and organic living, and who is supportive of non-circumcision and not vaccinating your baby.
8) Christian Women
These are doulas who understand the role that religious beliefs play in childbirth and support women using the typical doula methods and incorporate spirituality and faith.
*I didn't know this was a specialty until I became a doula myself, and I specifically wrote "Christian women" instead of "spiritual women" because these doulas focus on strong Christian faith/values.
9) Advanced Maternal Age
Anyone over the age of 35. If you are in this group of women you may know the chances of a stillbirth, miscarriage, and complications such as breech position, diabetes, placenta previa, and hemorrhaging increase, and because of this doctors usually encourage induction at 39 weeks or elective c-sections. With more medical things coming up, a doula who knows what to expect and how to help can be a great comfort at this time.
*I am not trying to scare anyone about AMA, but oftentimes doctors view this as a "complication" and can treat women differently because of it.
Women who are expecting multiples usually have needs different from women expecting singletons. Finding a doula with experience in multiples can be beneficial to you during pregnancy, birth, and in the postpartum period (I might even say ESPECIALLY in the postpartum period).
I am talking about those who are adopting and those who are carrying a baby for another family. The needs are unique, and here we see a lot of emotional support being given to women and families.
There are particular challenges that LGBT families face when it comes to pregnancy, birth, and parenting. Some locations might have more supportive options available than others. But regardless of where you live, if you are in this group and your family is expecting to grow, it is vitally important that your doula understands the ins-and-outs of your culture, your needs, and can help you navigate those waters.
13) Mental Health
One of my specialties! There are not many of us, but across the country I have made friends with doulas who have a professional mental health background and worked as a therapist before becoming a doula. If you have any sort of mental health experience (past or present) you may want to look and see if a specialized doula is in your area. Having a good understanding of mental illness, support, medications, and resources may come in handy!
14) Sexual Trauma/PTSD
Another area where I have a lot of experience. If there is a history of sexual trauma, it may come up during pregnancy and labor in some form, and even if you do not ever disclose your experience to your doula, it will be helpful to have someone who understands and is sensitive to your experiences. This group also includes previous birth trauma for mother, father, or both.
15) High Risk
This is a broad field that includes breech, velamentous cord, IUGR, preeclampsia, placental complications, gestational diabetes and much more, and while this specialty is not a common one, if you have any of these you may want to look for a high-risk doula (and preferably one who also offers antepartum care - like me!)
Sometimes you can gather this information by looking at each doulas website and reading their blog: What do they write about often? Do they mention any specific expertise? Look at the packages they offer, if they have postpartum or antepartum care that give you more information! How is their website set up, and what message does it send? The name of the business might also provide you with more clues as to what they specialize in. Ask in the interview or send an email!
Remember, doulas are taught broad support and are able to help women in many different experiences, but these specialties usually come from their passion, their own personal experiences, and the clients they have worked with before you.