Doulas and Epidurals: Are They Compatible?

By: Gloria Miles

"I don't need a doula, because I'm getting an epidural! In fact, I may ask for one as soon as I walk off the elevator!"
"What would a doula even do once an epidural is in place?"
"I don't want a natural birth. Aren't doulas a know...hippy? Aren't they all about no drugs at all?"

I'm pretty sure that every doula has heard some variety of the above. There are many different misconceptions about doulas. For instance, I'm pretty sure there's a certain percentage of the population that thinks we all smell like patchouli and throw essential oils all over the room when women are laboring. Others combine our job description with that of a midwife's. And, of course, others think that the only reason someone would hire a doula would be to help with a completely drug-free, "natural" birth at home or in a hospital.

Here's the secret: a few doulas smell like patchouli (because they love patchouli perfume), no one throws essential oils anywhere, and women who want "natural" births hire us....and women who want the most textbook, medicated births hire us as well. Essentially, there's a doula for everyone.

So let's get to the point of this blog post.

Why would I want to hire a doula if I plan on using pain medication?

  1. Doulas provide informational support.

    What books should I read to prep for childbirth or parenting or breastfeeding? Where are my local resources? Who teaches childbirth education? I have a question about some new research I read.

    Do these questions sound familiar? Most parents, first time or not, find that they have a few questions. While your healthcare provider may be wonderful, he or she may not have the time to help you find information on parenting information. A doula does all that and more!
  2. Doulas provide support at home.

    First-time mothers especially tend to have longer labors. Many hospitals are adopting the "rule" that admittance only occurs at 5 (sometimes even 6!) centimeters. Until then, a mother might be sent home. Almost all doulas are willing to meet you at your home to provide emotional and physical support during early labor.
  3. Partner support.

    Some partners find that they really don't want to be the only person in the room that the mother is depending on. What if he or she has to go to the restroom during transition? Or perhaps he or she needs to take a quick nap during a long labor in order to really be there when it counts. Or perhaps he or she wants to make sure to remember everything from childbirth prep. A doula is not just there for the mother. She is also there for other members of the support team. She's the safety net that many partners appreciate during labor and delivery.

    Story time:

    I was in the car driving to a hospital. The call had come at a perfect time and there was minimal time spent getting ready. I was impressed that I was already about five minutes away.

    The phone rang and I answered. "Hello? Hey," said a voice. I recognized it as my client's husband.

    "Hey, Rob," I said. ***

    "Hey. Um, just wondering how far out you are. Five minutes? That's perfect," he said. He cleared his throat and continued. "Did you have a good day today? You eat already?"

    He rambled for another few seconds and I answered him politely. I paused and asked, "Are you outside? I hear the wind."

    There was another pause and he admitted, "I know this is my third one, but I get so nervous...I have anxiety. It's anxiety. I just...I can't be in there with her right now."

    I had never had a father admit this or leave his pregnant, laboring wife before, so I was more surprised than anything. I also assumed that he would be an anxious, worried mess once I coaxed him back into the room.

    I arrived and he immediately took me to the labor room. Would you believe that he was the calmest, coolest partner ever? He was not the same man who spoke to me on the phone. Later, my client admitted that I was hired more for her husband than for her. It was amazing to see. All he needed was the pressure to be taken off of him and he rose to the occasion. He knew that he didn't have to remember anything on her birth plan, because I brought a cheat sheet. He knew that he didn't have to remember exactly how to apply counter pressure, because I would show him before he did it himself. He was amazing. 

  4. Wait time and failure.

    I promise I'm not saying this to scare anyone, but epidurals do have a failure rate. Some women cannot have an epidural (let's say that your blood pressure is too low to safely administer an epidural) or an anesthesiologist is in the OR and you have to wait until he or she is available. (Don't worry too much, because there are other pain relief medications available for laboring moms.) Until then, a doula will help with many other comfort techniques in order to minimize discomfort and the intensity of the contractions.


I'm going to be slightly controversial here and say that doulas are not for everyone, that much is true. Not everyone needs or wants one. However, a doula is for anyone. A doula's goal is to assist you in having a birth where you feel protected, loved, and respected. There is no birth model that works best for hiring a doula. A doula is there to complement your birth plan whether that's in a tub at home or a in a hospital. A doula can be instrumental to your birth whether that's on your own bed, in a birth center, with an epidural, or even with a cesarean.

Please contact us if you would like additional information on hiring the perfect doula for your upcoming birth!

***The name used for the story was changed in order to protect privacy.

Gloria Miles is a Navy veteran and mother of 3. She wears many hats as a doula, certified aromatherapist, and student midwife. She is currently working towards obtaining a Bachelor's in Healthcare Management. When she is not blogging, she enjoys reading, knitting, hiking, and mud runs.