Feeling comfortable and supported on delivery day can take a tremendous load off your mind. We’re talking about husbands, doctors, and nurses, of course—and also about doulas. A trained, non-medical labor assistant, a doula serves as a sort of personal pregnancy and delivery coach. But is that something you really need?

Many experts say yes. “Unlike nurses, who are responsible for many patients, your doula will focus on you and only you—being your lead support system before, during, and after birth,” says Kimberly Swift, a certified nurse-midwife, in Chandler, Arizona.

Here’s more to know, plus whether you should hire a doula.

How will a doula help me?

Hiring a doula won’t just make you feel calmer, more positive, and more empowered—it could actually increase your odds of a healthy delivery: A Cochrane Library review of 21 studies concluded that women who received support from a doula had shorter, happier labors, plus and fewer c-sections and epidurals compared to women who didn’t have doulas.

Most likely, it’s because hiring a doula helps make the birthing experience less stressful, more empowering, and one that’s free of unnecessary interventions and respects a woman’s wishes.

 What can I expect from my doula?

In the months and weeks leading up to your baby’s birth, your doula will help you create a birth plan, give advice, and answer any burning questions you might have about the big day.

During delivery, your doula will be by your side to help coach you through. She’ll lead you in breathing exercises, suggest labor positions, give you soothing massages. She’ll also support your partner and even make suggestions on how he can help you, too—like rubbing your back while she rubs your feet. Bottom line, “Your doula’s main goal is to make you feel 100% comfortable,” says Swift.

For the first few weeks after giving birth, your doula will continue offering help and support with things like breastfeeding and caring for your baby to give you a much-needed break.

What will my doula’s relationship be with my OB/GYN?

After hiring a doula, she may meet with your doctor. But their primary interaction will occur on delivery day: While your OB/GYN is there to monitor your health and deliver your baby, your doula will help you make it through the emotional part of childbirth.

 Where can I find a doula and what should I be looking for?

Several organizations offer training and certification for doulas, though there’s no government or professional oversight. (Reputable certifying organizations include DONA International, the Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators, the International Childbirth Education Association, and Lamaze International.)

A good doula will have completed hands-on training sessions like breastfeeding workshops, childbirth education classes, and mentorships with other doulas.

If you’re considering hiring a doula, talk to your doc for recommendations or, ask other moms for reputable doulas in your area.

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