Tips for Better Doula Etiquette

By: Meagan Heaton, Co-Owner of The VBAC Link, CD(DONA), AD(MCU)

Doula etiquette, what does it mean and how does it look?  Here are four ways you as a doula can help create a positive space within the birth team as well as build lasting relationships with hospital and birth center staff. As doulas it is important that we do not step outside of our scope of practice. We love the families we serve and we want to help them in a professional way, so let’s dive in on some doula etiquette.

Remember the doula scope and values. 

What is the scope of a doula?  As a doula we are here to provide physical, emotional, and educational support. We do not provide medical advice or perform medical tasks such as cervical exams or checking fetal heart tones, etc. Doulas are welcome to share supportive community resources and provide evidence based information to their clients to research further. 

Make friends not enemies. 

Partner supporting laboring mother.

Although doulas have been around for quite some time there will still be times where one of us walks into a birthing room with our laboring client and a staff member is standoffish. This could be because the staff member has had a bad experience in the past with another doula and may not be a fan of doulas in general. This is why doula etiquette is so important to practice. Say hello, introduce yourself to the staff , let the staff know who you are and that you appreciate them. Be friendly with the staff, get to know them respectfully, and assure them that you are there to assist your client to the best of your ability, just like they are. Your client has hired you to be part of their birth team, the last thing they need in labor is tension between members of the team. 

Possible questions to ask the staff: 

  • How long have you been in this field? 
  • What made you want to become a nurse or a doctor
  • What is your favorite thing about being an L&D nurse?
  • Ask about the equipment, how to read a monitor or what they are looking for etc. (even if you may know.)

I have personally experienced a positive energy shift with a nurse or provider who is not super friendly with doulas once I start asking questions about them. 

NOTE: Please be mindful of the laboring/birthing person, small chat could affect them. 

Remember whom you are there for. 

From the moment we are hired by a client our intention is to serve them the best possible way we can. Generally, we want to make sure we do everything to help the client leave their birth feeling satisfied and positive about their experience. One challenge we may face is working with hospital or birth center staff who tell our client to do something that is not in line with their birth wishes. It can be hard knowing our client’s desires and not feeling like we can defend them or speak up. Remember, as a doula it is not our role to speak for our clients, however we can offer love and support by giving our client relevant information to help them and their partner make the best educated decision. Sometimes this means letting the hospital or birth center staff say everything they are going to say before speaking to our client. REMEMBER, doulas DO NOT give medical advice but only provide evidence based information to help our clients understand how to use their “B.R.A.I.N.” (Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Intuition, do Nothing.) Talking through this acronym is a great way to help our clients know what options they have. 

Megan Heaton supporting a client.

Realize the way we handle ourselves leaves a lasting impression on how the hospital or birth center staff views doulas as a whole.

No pressure right?! Remember that we are professionals and that we have been hired as a member of our client’s birth team. Be respectful, mindful, and do everything you can to make a positive impression with the staff. Say thank you, praise them for their support, as mentioned above, make friends with them. Ask before we get things in the room and never touch the medical staff equipment. After the birth, help in any way you can but also allow the staff to do their job. For example, I offer support in helping my client and baby with their first latch for breastfeeding if it is desired. I have worked with a few nurses who this is their favorite thing to do, so I kindly allow them to work with my client at this point. Be sensitive to the members of the team and make room for them to share their expertise in serving your client, praise them and build them up. If you work with a nurse who particularly enjoys assisting clients with the first latch, let them take the lead, ask them for tips to improve your practice (even if you didn’t like how they handled things.) If someone delivered particularly great service make it a point to write a review card, or get the nurse case manager’s information and write a follow up email to thank the staff member(s) for their excellent support and care for your client. These small but easy things go a long way and really help hospital and birth center facilities to be more doula friendly. 

In closing I want to remind you that you are an amazing doula. Your clients are lucky to have you, it’s doulas like you who are changing birth journeys for the better. Keep up the amazing work. Get to know your community and birthing locations. Look, dress, and act the part and remember that your doula etiquette reflects the way the hospital and birth center staff view the doula profession and paves the way for the next doula that walks through the door. 

Meagan Heaton, Co-Owner of The VBAC Link, CD(DONA), AD(MCU)

About the Author:

Meagan is co-owner of the VBAC Link. She has supported over 100 women during their pregnancy and birth. A VBA2C mom, her drive is to help women like herself feel educated, supported, and empowered during their birthing time.