Doula Alice Turner, left, with Kristen Lemley-Entrekin holding her newborn.

Chances are there’s a doula in your neighborhood and you don’t even know it.

A doula (pronounced doo-la) is a nonmedical person who assists a woman before, during or after childbirth. The doula provides physical guidance and emotional support.

A key difference between a doula and a midwife is continuous care – not subject to shift changes, schedule conflicts or overlapping commitments to other clients.

“Most expecting moms are with a practice of maybe five doctors. They don’t know who’s going to be there. With a doula you build a relationship, you can count on who will be by your side and help make it a positive experience,” said Alice Turner, a Brookhaven doula since 2005, when she left a job in the medical device field.

Doulas specialize as either birth or postpartum caregivers. Turner is a birth doula with four young children of her own. “I had my first two kids, then became a doula, and then hired a doula for my next two. Doulas can’t doula themselves,” she said.

Kristen Lemley-Entrekin used Turner’s services for her first child, Quinn, born Feb. 20. “I did have a midwife also, but I wanted to go as natural as possible. A doula has a whole toolbox for managing the pain of labor. Alice helped me with massage, breathing techniques and different positions. It sounds crazy, but she said that taking a shower could alleviate pain and it worked for me,” the new mom said.

Turner’s doula care costs $800, which includes two pre-natal meetings at home, and open-ended support during labor and birth. She noted that none of her 125 families has found coverage with their insurance plans so far.

“But doulas are covered on the west coast, and Medicaid does (cover it) because doula work reduces health care costs and medical interventions like C-sections and epidurals,” she said.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently bolstered that premise. “Published data indicates that one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes is the continuous presence of support personnel, such as a doula. Given that there are no associated measurable harms, this resource is probably underutilized,” it stated.

The doula numbers have risen steadily worldwide. Doulas of North America (DONA) claims to have trained and certified more than 7,000 of them since 1992.

Jill Dominguez is a postpartum doula with more than 20 clients, charging them $25 an hour. She’s the mother of a 7-year-old boy. “I think that having a postpartum doula would have saved me a lot of stress. I didn’t really know what I was doing in those early days!” she said.

Dominguez, a Brookhaven resident for 10 years, switched careers and got her DONA and “lactation educator” certifications four years ago. “My goal is to nurture a new family, providing infant care, breastfeeding help, light housekeeping and meal preparation. All parents pretty much have the same basic needs: sleep, food and to feel confident in caring for their baby,” she said.

Sherry Donovan, mom to nearly 1-year-old twin girls, is sold on Dominguez. “Jill was my postpartum angel. My preemie twins were born seven weeks early. We had one at home and one in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) so things were pretty chaotic. I was able to sit and ask questions and have her guide me while I was breastfeeding,” she said.

Some doulas, like Kristen Fergusson, can be located through neighborhood associations like Nextdoor.com.

Fergusson works as a part-time postpartum doula in Brookhaven. She was a nanny for 10 years and got into doula work after her young son was born. “I know what it’s like when people come over and offer all their opinions. I am the neutral party for advice and support,” she said.

Fergusson provides all the same services as Dominguez and she’s helped with postpartum depression. “One client kept asking me ‘Are my feelings normal?’ I could always tell she was kind of down but we worked through it together,” she said.

There was a palpable connection when birth doula Alice Turner made an after-birth home visit to follow up with Kristen Entrekin.

“It’s very gratifying to have someone tell me that they’ve had a positive birth experience and the start of a new life,” Turner said.

Entrekin added, “And even though I did have medical intervention, Alice was there to help me feel in control.”

They smiled and shared a long bear hug.

–J.D. Moor