In early 2020, when COVID-19 began to spread across the world, and most hospitals and birth centers revised their visitor policies, many doulas scrambled to offer their clients the best support they could over the phone via FaceTime, or through a webcam set up in their birthing space. While this support may have felt harried and second-best at the time, some doulas have found that they, and the families they serve, appreciate the unique benefits of well-provided virtual support.

Why Practice Virtually?

While many birthing spaces are now allowing doulas back into the room, and many are excited to be back in person with their clients, there are some situations that may require virtual support long after Covid restrictions fully lift.

Primary reasons that both doulas and clients may desire a virtual option include geographical constraints and the ability to offer virtual support at a reduced rate.

Doulas who support clients virtually can extend their support for previous clients who have since relocated but want them to remain a part of their birth team, or doulas who offer very specialized care can market their services to families that have a need for this care no matter where they are in the world.

Doulas and clients may also benefit from a broader menu of services, a menu that includes virtual consultation and support (rather than hands-on) at a reduced rate. Offering a menu of services allows doulas to meet their clients where they are and ensures they are as accessible as possible to those in their community.

Are Virtual Doulas Effective?

There are understandable concerns about whether or not virtual doula support is as effective as in-person support. Birth support is a fairly intimate job that often involves some level of physical support.

While there are no studies yet that compare the effects of virtual vs. in-person support on birth outcomes and satisfaction, many birthing people, partners, and doulas have found the arrangement to work well. Often, doulas describe using a mother’s partner as a physical proxy, guiding them on how to rub, warm, cool, or position the mother for comfort or relief. This sort of guidance fosters a healthy intimacy that can benefit the couple.

How To Provide Effective Virtual Doula Services

Given all of the above, it’s likely that more organizations and facilities will explore offering virtual doula services in the future. It will therefore be important for these same organizations to have a firm understanding of how to go about the process.

First and foremost, there’s a business component to providing virtual doula services. A doula needs to be equipped to provide virtual assistance, both by clearly listing the option on their web page or social media, and by integrating the technology that this service will require. Facilitating video and voice call opportunities can help parents-to-be (and anyone who may be helping them) understand the process of virtual support and show preparedness to provide effective virtual doula services from the onset.

Providing effective doula support may also require doulas to seek out additional training in order to be effective. 

Virtual support requires a different kind of communication and often more interaction with family and/or close friends than in-person support might. It’s in the best interest of all involved to hold practice virtual sessions, so that all parties can get comfortable with virtual interaction. The doula can get familiar with the birthing person’s circumstances through the virtual lens, such as the people around them, the social dynamics, and so on. All of these will prepare a doula to operate effectively in a virtual environment.

Making it happen

Providing virtual doula services is an adjustment, but one that can be beneficial and rewarding for both birthing families and doulas. It’s certainly a different process than what most doulas will have trained for and come to expect. Virtual care is simply the best option in some circumstances, and doing your best to make it every bit as effective as in-person alternatives is wonderful work!