Doulas Share the Top Questions to Ask Prospective Doulas — and Red Flags to Look Out For (Exclusive)

Sophie Hirsh - Author

May 23 2023, Published 1:24 p.m. ET

A woman in labor on a hospital bed
Source: iStock

Being pregnant and giving birth are some of the most incredible human experiences — but they are also known for being pretty painful, both physically and emotionally. So, in pursuit of easing stress and providing support during pregnancy and birth, many parents-to-be hire doulas.

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If you are considering hiring a doula, the pressure of choosing the right one for you can be overwhelming. So, we spoke with a few incredible birthing professionals to learn about some questions to ask a doula during the interview process, as well as their recommendations on how to find a local (and affordable) doula near you, red flags to look out for, and the benefits of using a doula.

A pregnant woman sits on an exercise ball with support from two people.
Source: iStock
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These questions to ask a doula can help during the interview process.

Stacey Blackwell is a birth and postpartum doula and documentary photographer. She provides her services through her Los Angeles-based company Modern LA Doula.

Via email, Blackwell shares with Green Matters the top three questions she recommends asking a prospective doula:

  1. What is your “why,” your mission — aka, what fuels your work and passion?

  2. How do you handle creating an alliance with the birth team? (Home or hospital birth applicable.)

  3. How would you best describe your doula style?

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Rachel André is a Brooklyn-based certified birth and postpartum doula, as well as an integrative lactation and feeding specialist. She has a variety of certifications, and through her company, she offers her services to people all across the New York City area.

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The three questions André recommends asking doulas during interviews are:

  1. What brought you to their work and what is your philosophy on supporting parents?

  2. What is your ideal client?

  3. How long have you been doing this work and what training have you received? And, see if they use inclusive language.

A woman in labor kneels near a hospital bed, with two people hugging her.
Source: Midwives of New Jersey

Rachel André assists in a birth.

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Nicole Deggins is a midwife and the founder of Sista Midwife Productions. The New Orleans-based agency trains people all across the U.S. (as well as in several international countries), and is one of the largest online Black doula training agencies. Sista Midwife Productions also runs the online Black Doula Directory in partnership with Baby Dove.

Deggins shares the three questions she thinks expecting parents should ask a potential doula:

  1. What is your philosophy around pregnancy, labor, and birth? This is helpful to ensure they are aligned with your personal outlook and are willing to be in lockstep with you throughout the birthing process.

  2. What other specialties or experience do you have? Most families should get background insights on what the potential doula specializes in and the level of their previous experience.

  3. How will you help in creating an empowering birth experience? This is a good question to help better understand the doula’s approach to centering the family, their needs, and allowing them to ultimately have autonomy over their experience.

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Nicole Deggins looks at the camera
Source: Sista Midwife Productions

Nicole Deggins, founder of Sista Midwife Productions

To avoid hiring a bad doula, look out for these red flags.

Like with pretty much anything on Earth, doulas can provide either a positive or a negative experience for their client — so it’s important to be aware of potential red flags.

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According to Blackwell, these are important red flags to look out for when speaking with potential doulas:

  1. Someone who lacks conversation skills.

  2. Someone with very few boundaries and/or a disorganized business.

  3. Someone with a lack of passion for this work.Burnout is real in birth work, so the work should come from a huge calling within first and foremost, not just a ‘job.’”

André adds these red flags:

  1. Someone who doesn’t ask questions back or find a way to involve your partner (if applicable).

  2. Saying yes to everything you want without followup.

  3. Someone who gives you a bad gut feeling after the interview. “Your gut and intuition can tell you a lot about the person and it's important to listen to and trust those feelings.”

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And Deggins shares these warning signs to look out for:

  1. Someone who presents themselves as the only necessary provider for your pregnancy or birth. “Your doula should be seen as one part of your birth team. Your birth team will also include a midwife or physician.”

  2. Someone who is giving actual medical advice, diagnosing, or prescribing medication. “Doulas are not medical providers.”

  3. Someone who is not in alignment with your personal birth preferences.

  4. Someone who gives you a bad gut feeling. “As with all things pregnancy and birth, if something feels ‘off’ you should listen to your intuition and seek out another doula.”

A woman holds a washcloth to the head of a woman in labor
Source: Midwives of New Jersey

Rachel André assists in a birth.

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Here’s how to find a doula near you.

When looking for a doula near you, there are many directories online that can help you get started.

Deggins recommends Sista Midwife Productions and Baby Dove’s Black Doula Directory, and Blackwell recommends the websites Pregnancy Pathways and DoulaMatch.

Meanwhile, André recommends asking friends, family, and even people in Facebook parenting groups for personal doula recommendations.

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Nicole Deggins speaks into a microphone next to a screen showing the Black Doula Directory
Source: Sista Midwife Productions

Nicole Deggins presents the Black Doula Directory.

Here’s how to find affordable doulas near you.

Blackwell notes that many doulas take clients at a sliding scale upon request, as well as a few pro-bono clients each year — so, she recommends reaching out to that “dream doula you've been following for years.” She also advises starting a Doula Fund on Babylist, so friends and family can contribute funds to help you hire a doula, perhaps instead of a baby gift registry.

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If you are open to hiring a doula-in-training (they are typically more affordable), André advises checking out the websites CAPPA and DONA. She adds that finding a doula independently of an agency is typically more affordable, and more likely to offer a sliding scale rate.

You might be able to use your HSA/FSA to pay your doula; furthermore, most states cover doulas for people with Medicaid, André notes. So make sure to check if your insurance covers doula services; if not, your insurance may cover “maternity care bundles” that include doulas, as per Wildwood Birth Collective — so make sure to do your research.

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A pregnant woman lays on an exercise ball, and a doula gently lifts her belly with a scarf.
Source: iStock

There are so many reasons to hire a doula.

Unsurprisingly, the three experts can all easily wax poetic about the benefits of hiring a doula.

“We know doulas are important and beneficial,” says Deggins. “Research shows us they improve birth outcomes for moms and babies, they decrease the use of unnecessary interventions, decrease cesarean section rates, and families who use doulas report more satisfaction with their birth when compared to those who don’t use doulas.”

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Additionally, “doulas create a safe space for moms and families to feel seen, supported, and heard,” Deggins adds. “They are often the advocate for the mothers while everyone else is focused on the baby. They are an unbiased listening ear.”

Blackwell explains that hiring a doula can provide “continuity of care through the full journey,” as well as “evidence-based advice,” and “unbiased important conversations.”

She also notes that doulas can help encourage partners on the best ways “to support and show up” for their birthing partner. Additionally, doulas can help build community with local pregnant people and new parents, by connecting like-minded families.

André points to the following benefits: “Community and consistency of care, vetted evidence-based resources and education, listening ear, making sure you feel heard, reassurance, confidence building, slowing things down and grounding you, demystifying and simplifying the process, helping to find autonomy with your journey of becoming a parent and what feels good for you every step of the way and beyond!”

But most importantly, André points out that doulas are “really good huggers.”

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