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

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about doulas in general, and about our Volunteer Program:

What does a doula do?
The word Doula (“doo-lah”) was originally a Greek word for a woman’s personal servant. 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 doula provides continuous, one-on-one physical, emotional, and informational support to women during labor and birth. (A doula doesn’t 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, less use of epidurals and other pain medications, lower episiotomy rates, and up to a 50% 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.

Does a doula replace the dad?
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 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.

How does a mother-to-be arrange to have a doula at her birth?
The Hearts & Hands Doula Program offers trained volunteers, free of charge, to anyone having a baby at the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest. 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. (We can also help families find information on how to hire a private doula, whom they can meet ahead of time.)

What training is needed to become a doula?
Hearts & Hands volunteers are required to attend our introductory training, 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. (Private-practice labor doulas go through specific training, hands-on labor experiences, and a comprehensive exam before being certified.)

What are the requirements for volunteering at UCSD Medical Center?
Besides the introductory doula training and mentoring, UCSD Volunteer Services requires all hospital volunteers to complete TB skin testing, provide proof of immunizations, and attend a volunteer orientation and safety training. Details are available at

No prior experience is required, but volunteer doulas must attend 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 2 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 or women with health limitations.

University of California, San Diego Medical Center

Copyright 2008-2014, San Diego, CA