If it were up to us, every single birthing person in the world would have access to a doula during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. The informational, emotional, and physical support doulas provide is proven to lead to more positive birth experiences

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But we’re not naive; we know there are circumstances that can make having a doula challenging or even downright impossible for some folks. Maybe you live in a rural or underserved area and simply don’t have access to trained doulas. Perhaps you don’t have the budget. Or maybe a global pandemic comes along, making it impossible to share physical space and have a doula present during birth (ahem!!). 

For these reasons and many more, only a very small number of births in the United States today count on the presence of a doula. Black mothers, who are made most vulnerable by inequities in the healthcare system, face extra barriers. 

But thanks largely to the wonders of technology, a new era of doula care is emerging—one in which birthing people and families can access the care and expertise of doulas from wherever they are, as long as they have a phone or internet connection. This idea became more prevalent—and necessary—during the COVID-19 pandemic, when countless birthing people relied on the support of a doula via laptop. 

Enter the virtual doula.

What is a virtual doula? 

A virtual doula provides pregnant people and their partners with comprehensive support, guidance, and advocacy via virtual channels like video and phone calls, text messages, email, and other online resources and platforms. They are available to answer questions, address concerns, and offer reassurance throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. 

In the lead up to birth, a virtual doula can provide emotional support and a compassionate presence, education and informational resources, and help with birth and postpartum planning. 

During labor, virtual doulas can offer remote assistance and guidance to help with pain management and comfort measures. They can coach a partner virtually to help suggest relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, and positioning strategies—as well as ensure the birthing person’s preferences, desires, and rights are heard during labor and delivery. 

After childbirth, virtual doulas may continue to offer guidance and encouragement to families as they adjust to the demands of parenthood. They can provide information on newborn care, breastfeeding, postpartum recovery, emotional well-being, and resources for additional assistance if needed.

Are virtual doulas effective? 

It’s understandable why folks may question whether having a virtual doula would make a difference. After all, birth is an intimate and vulnerable space that often requires physical support, so even the term virtual doula might seem contradictory.

But many people find virtual doula support to be a convenient, comfortable, and accessible option. At just the click of a button, a doula can be there to help as you seek information and navigate anxieties, when you go into labor, and as you settle at home to focus on healing and getting to know your baby. 

And don’t just take it from us. Revolutionary new research from Maven Clinic, a digital healthcare platform specializing in women’s and family health, sheds light on why virtual doulas are a game-changer in maternal health.

For the first-ever study of the impact of virtual doulas on maternal health outcomes, Maven drew on data from nearly 9,000 of its members, encompassing a diverse population of expectant mothers. They used a combination of quantitative data analysis (such as stress levels, birth outcomes, and medical interventions) and qualitative feedback (through surveys, interviews, and open-ended questions) from participants to provide a nuanced understanding of perceptions of virtual doula services.

What did the findings show? 

Maven was able to prove the effectiveness of virtual doula services in improving maternal health outcomes and addressing the diverse needs of expectant mothers. According to the findings, virtual doulas contributed to a more positive birth experience and reduced the need for medical interventions. 

Those surveyed felt like they had support in deciding a delivery preference, learned medically accurate information, felt like they received a high level of emotional support, and were better able to manage their mental health. 

Those who attended two or more doula appointments reduced their odds of having a C-section by nearly 20%. Black members who attended two or more virtual doula appointments decreased the odds of C-section by 60%. 

Virtual doula services were also found to be highly accessible and convenient. Participants reported a greater sense of empowerment and autonomy in their childbirth journey, facilitated by the flexibility of virtual interactions that transcended geographical barriers. 

Does virtual doula support take the place of in person care? 

This research definitively shows virtual doula services are a big plus for birthing folks and their families. But while virtual doula support can offer numerous benefits, it’s essential to acknowledge that it isn’t likely to replace the role of an in-person doula. In-person doulas provide hands-on, physical support and emotional presence, which can’t be fully replicated through a screen. When you’re in the throes of labor and delivery, a doula’s expertise and touch can make all the difference. 

But it’s exciting to see research showing that the in-person component of doula care may not be necessary to achieve more positive birth outcomes, especially among historically marginalized communities. Virtual care is simply the best option in some circumstances, and knowing that it is so effective is really encouraging. 

Ultimately, doulas do the work they do because they love it and they know it matters. Whether it’s over the phone or with you in your birthing space, your doula is there to serve as your ally and help you achieve the birth you want. 

If you think virtual doula services might be for you, reach out to M.A.M.A. today to learn about our offerings. 

About the Author 

Jessica is a mother of two small kiddos. She is a journalist and writer with a passion for women’s health. She is committed to destigmatizing conversations about the challenges and messiness of modern motherhood—right alongside the magic.

Read more from M.A.M.A. 

I’ve Birthed Before. Do I Need a Doula Now?

What is a Doula and Why You Need One?

Pregnant During the Pandemic