Birth Support Coach vs. Doula

Since the seventies, those who provide education and support to birthing individuals have all been called ‘Labor Coaches’. In that group are childbirth educators who teach about childbirth and deliver a body of knowledge, usually in a group setting. Also in that group are doulas who are trained to provide emotional, physical and informational continuous support throughout the birth. We all got used to thinking about childbirth as an event in which our role is to help the birth giver cope with labor strains while providing information, reassurance, and applying comfort measures.

On the other hand, coaching, a growing industry generating $11 billion in the USA, is an entirely different practice that stands by itself. It is the practice of leading competent and healthy individuals to optimally perform in order to achieve their goals.

Birth support coaches that are trained here at the Birth Coach Method, likewise, are also trained to coach expectant individuals towards achieving their desired birth experience. 

Coaching is the practice of leading competent and healthy individuals to optimally perform in order to achieve their goals.

While training to be a coach (see final subsection below), it became clear to me that prenatal coaching using the same techniques I had learned while training to be a coach would be key to a doulas’ successful leadership, as well as to the birth givers’ high satisfaction levels with their births. And so immediately after graduating, I began integrating coaching strategies into the field of birth support.

This integration is the core principle of Birth Coach Method’s mission. We create programs that lead birth professionals of all types – doulas, childbirth educators, L&D nurses, and others to integrate the coaching principles, strategies, and relationships of coaching into their practice. This integration helped me to resolve some major dilemmas in my doula practice and to elicit my professional status at the same time.

Why is prenatal coaching the key to doulas’ success and birth givers’ satisfaction?

Coaching helped me understand that having a natural childbirth is not all that ‘natural’ to my birth clients nowadays. Instead, childbirth essentially requires birth givers to perform physically, emotionally and mentally in a way that is much different from their everyday lives. Because this is anything but ‘natural’ for them, birth givers who want to have healthy vaginal births must practice new ways of being with and responding to the strains of childbirth. Since practicing is a core concept in coaching, it only seemed natural to integrate the two.

Whether the coaching process takes place in sports, the business world, relationships or parenting, areas of practice have got to be assigned to the client during the process. Coaches learn that in order to achieve one’s goals or adopt a new perspective which will serve the individual better, the coachees must practice. For this reason, birth support coaches will begin coaching their clients prenatally and focus on the progress their clients make towards achieving their desired birth experience.  We conduct a series of prenatal coaching sessions with five goals known as the five ‘C’s of birth support coaching:

I’ve identified prenatal coaching as the pathway to doulas’ successful leadership and birth givers’ high satisfaction levels with their births.

  1. Facilitating clarity of the client’s beliefs and thoughts.
  2. Eliciting clients’ confidence
  3. Assessing and strengthening clients’ level of commitment to their process and goals.
  4. Facilitating strong convictions of our clients in regards to their way and truth.
  5. Allowing our clients to be (in) charge of their journey and birth experience.

Do Birth Support Coaches and Doulas achieve different goals?

In order to help you see the differences between birth support coaches and birth doulas, I put together a partial list of goals that birth coaches achieve by conducting prenatal coaching sessions. As you can see, some of the goals on the list are marked as goals that can be achieved by both doulas and birth support coaches. However, other goals on the list can be achieved only by integrating the coaching principles and strategies we teach birth support professionals.

Both Birth Support Coaches and Doulas:

  • Provide resources and information. (Both)
  • Address personal circumstances and concerns of the client and her partner. (Both)
  • Finalize the birth preference list and empower clients to initiate an open discussion with their medical caregiver. (Both)

Only Birth Support Coaches:

  • Facilitate clarity about the client’s goals and wishes for her birth and the motivation behind them. (Birth support coaches)
  • Establish open communication in order to distinguish fears from reality and truth from myth about childbirth. (Birth support coaches)
  • Assist clients in revealing areas of concern or challenges that they are not currently in touch with, and resolve them. (Birth support coaches)
  • Allow clients to adopt positive perspectives and feelings about their nearing birth by means of reframing, asking coaching questions, affirmations, anchoring and more.  (Birth support coaches)
  • Provide ongoing opportunities to prenatally practice labor support tools and comfort measures like breathing techniques, visualization, and positions. (Birth support coaches)
  • Assess and elicit clients’ accountability for their positive and healthy process. (Birth support coaches)

The birth support coaching process prenatally prepares birth givers to conduct themselves beautifully throughout their birth

This is just a partial list of the goals you might be able to achieve when you learn how to coach, and what I want you to mostly get by looking at this list is that coaching always comes before the performance! Birth is just like a marathon run or mountain climbing in that it requires physical and emotional performance levels. Therefore, the birth support coaching process that is tailored around the individual’s unique process will prenatally prepare birth givers who later will conduct themselves beautifully throughout their birth.

Childbirth educators will continue to inform and deliver knowledge. Birth doulas will continue to provide physical and emotional and informational support throughout childbirth. But doulas and childbirth educators who choose to integrate the coaching strategies and provide prenatal coaching sessions will be able to utilize the high level of readiness and the strong convictions throughout the birth. Birth support coaches can also tap into their clients’ motivation and use words and phrases that most resonate with their clients to help them overcome moments of crisis.

Birth support coaches gain their leadership position, not because of their ‘expert position’ in the field of childbirth. On the contrary, it is because they see the clients as experts in their own lives and help them reach their goals.

How did I get to Coaching?

As a birth doula, I was trained in a yearlong program to provide continuous emotional, physical and informational support to birth givers, their partners, and their families. In a yearlong doula training program, I learned an extensive body of theoretical knowledge about birth and some basic knowledge about the postpartum period and breastfeeding. Additionally, I was trained to apply comfort measures and labor support tools to laboring individuals.

Coming to live in California in 2002, I was surprised to learn that doula training programs across the USA are much shorter.  They typically last a weekend or two and therefore cover little theoretical knowledge and practical coping techniques. This leaves doulas who go into business and develop doula practices to pursue continuing education and enrichment.

However, I find it interesting that even the extensive training program I attended in 1997 felt insufficient to me after a decade of practice. There are a few historical reasons that led me to feel this way, the main one being the perception of doulas as ‘birth companions’ or ‘warm women’ who are ‘mothering the mother’ rather than birth support professionals. ( You can read more about it here.)

Because I lacked sufficient strategies to successfully lead birth givers towards healthy and positive birth experiences, I enrolled in a yearlong transformational coaching training in 2007. And now I incorporate the same coaching techniques and strategies when I train other birth support professionals in the Birth Coach Method so that they too can achieve the goals with their clients that are listed above.

If you are a birth professional (doula, prenatal yoga teacher, etc.) and wish to learn the same coaching techniques that health and wellness coaches have found to be so successful in their practices, only learn how to apply it coaching expectant couples, we invite you to enroll in our Coaching for Pregnancy and Birth Certification Course.

If you are considering a career as a doula, please check out our online doula training or our Bay Area doula training in which we also teach coaching strategies.

If you are an expectant parent looking for birth support and would like a doula certified by Birth Coach Method, let us know and we will let you know if there is one in your area.

Neri Life-Choma

I am the founder of Birth Coach Method and am celebrating 20 years of leadership in the field of childbirth support. Throughout my career, I have been honored to provide doula support and teach childbirth ed. classes to hundreds of expectant couples, as well as to direct two birth resource centers. I am also a doula leader in my community in the South Bay area of Silicon Valley in California.
Neri Life-Choma

doula profession, prenatal, training

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *