Hearts & Hands UCSD Volunteer Doula Program



Thank you for your interest in the UCSD Hearts & Hands Volunteer Doula Program!

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about doulas in general, and about our Doula Volunteers:

What does a doula do?

The word doula is from a Greek word for a servant or slave! In the past few decades, the word has been adopted to mean a Birth Assistant - someone who is trained and has experience with pregnancy, labor, and childbirth.   

A birth doula provides continuous, one-on-one physical, emotional, and informational support to women during labor and birth. (Typically, a doula does not leave a laboring woman until her baby is born, no matter how long it takes.)  Multiple randomized control studies have found that the presence of a trained doula benefits everyone:  

  • The studies have consistently shown that doula care is associated with shorter labors, fewer medical interventions, less use of epidurals and other pain medications, lower episiotomy rates, and up to a 28% reduction in the cesarean section rate.  
  • Research has also shown other improved outcomes for both the mother and baby - including fewer admissions to neonatal special care units, better breastfeeding rates, and better family bonding.
  • A doula also provides care for the partner and other family members, assists busy hospital staff, saves money, and greatly increases a mother's overall satisfaction with her birthing experience.

Is a doula the same thing as a midwife?

No - A doula provides no medical or nursing care. And since she doesn't have these responsibilities, or other patients to attend to, she can give her complete attention to being by a woman's side for the entire length of her labor while nurses, midwives or doctors come and go.

Does a doula replace the partner?  

A doula doesn't replace anyone! She is another member of the birth team, and supports everyone in their own role. A doula's presence helps fathers or partners participate at their own comfort level by showing them how and when to use various comfort techniques, providing explanations and information, and, in some cases, looking after them as well. Partners are often grateful to be able to share the "coaching" responsibility with someone more experienced, and can therefore enjoy the birth experience more.   

Is a doula useful if a mother-to-be has an epidural?  

Yes - a doula's presence is very helpful during early labor, and during the epidural placement process. She then continues to care for the woman and her family, offering emotional and informational support. And, when it's time to deliver the baby, the doula's assistance can be invaluable.   

Does a doula attend cesarean-section births?  

Yes - a woman facing major surgery can benefit greatly from a doula's emotional support. The doula may or may not be in the operating room, depending on the wishes of the family and the medical staff, but either way, the doula is still there for the new mother in the recovery room.  (Private doulas are not necessarily allowed into the Operating Room but UCSD's doulas are considered part of team and can accompany a mother into the OR even for the surgical prep.)

How does a mother-to-be arrange to have a Hearts & Hands doula at her birth?   

The Hearts & Hands Doula Program offers well trained volunteers, free of charge, to anyone having a baby at the UCSD Medical Centers. Our doulas work on-call, so there is nothing to arrange in advance - a mother can just ask for a doula when she gets to the hospital. 

What training is needed to become a UCSD doula?  

Hearts & Hands volunteers are required to attend our introductory training, screening through UCSD's Volunteer Services Department and depending on experience, they may work with more experienced mentor doulas for a few births until they are ready to "solo". Certification is not required, but our doulas are held to rigorous standards and receive more training and a wider range of experience than is provided by organizations that certify doulas. 

What are the requirements for volunteering at UCSD Medical Center?  

Besides the introductory doula training and mentoring, UCSD Volunteer Services first requires all hospital volunteers to complete health screening and a background check. Details are available at http://health.ucsd.edu/volunteer/   

No prior birth experience is required, but volunteer doulas must attend our on-site training, be able to work independently, and have the emotional and physical stamina to attend long labors. Our doulas work in the Labor & Delivery Unit as well as in the Birth Center, with a minimum commitment of being on call twice a month, for at least six months.*   

Do doulas work on shifts? 

No - once a doula commits to a woman during her labor, she stays until the baby is born - an indefinite period of time. After a birth, a doula herself often needs to rest; so volunteering should be offered only when she doesn't have other commitments near that time period. (Hearts & Hands volunteers' average time at a birth is 10-14 hours straight, but it may be 24 or more continuous hours).   

This sounds like a big commitment - is it?  

Yes - it is! Doula work, especially as a volunteer, isn't for everyone. But, if you can be away from work and family for an extended period of time at least two times per month, and feel that being part of the miracle of childbirth would be gratifying - it is!     

* Please note that this is a long-term volunteering commitment that requires significant time and stamina. As such, it has not usually proven to be a good fit for busy college students, mothers with young babies or people with health limitations.