What’s a Full-Spectrum Doula? Definition, Duties + FAQs

Updated

Reproductive health is a journey most people have to navigate in one way or another, especially if they’re someone that can get pregnant. Despite it being one of the most fundamental parts of being human, many people are left in the dust in terms of information, education, and support around their reproductive health. 

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It can be even more difficult to find the information and support you need at a time when it feels pressing and vital, like in the event of a pregnancy loss or if you’re seeking abortion support. Luckily, there are people out there who are devoted to providing the vital information and support that people need throughout their reproductive health journeys. One kind of professional that does this is a full-spectrum doula. 

What’s a Full-Spectrum Doula?

We typically associate the word “doula” with someone who supports people through pregnancy and birth. So what does the “full-spectrum” part mean?

Providing full-spectrum support

Different doulas may define their roles differently. But as someone who has worked as a full-spectrum doula for over five years, my definition of the term is: someone who supports people no matter the outcome of their pregnancy.

What does that mean in practice? That means that, in addition to providing non-medical care for people prenatally and during labor and birth, we also support people through pregnancy loss and provide postpartum care. Some full-spectrum doulas also include death care in their practice.

Advocacy and inclusivity in care

Another component of being a full-spectrum doula is inclusivity and activism. Reproductive health is an area where people seeking health care can be vulnerable to harm, in one way or another, by their providers. 

The maternal mortality rates in developed countries are still astoundingly high considering the technological advances that have been made in medical care. And any person who’s capable of becoming pregnant, including those who are transgender or nonbinary, deserves to be cared for and supported during the process, no matter the outcome. This is especially true for people who might have difficulties accessing medical care where they feel safe and seen by their providers. 

This is why many full-spectrum doulas approach their practice as a form of activism: to support people in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling helpless navigating the medical system. 

What Does a Full-Spectrum Doula Typically Do?

People often confuse doulas with midwives. Unlike midwives, doulas are not medical professionals (unless they have other training and credentials that are in the medical field). A full-spectrum doula’s role is non-medical support.

What kind of support do full-spectrum doulas provide people? We’ve broken down a full-spectrum doula’s role into five categories.

Education and planning

Even though pregnancy is the central building block of being a mammal on this planet, there sometimes isn’t enough education on what goes on during the process of pregancy and pregnancy loss. Pregnancy and pregnancy loss can be so full of questions and concerns, and people often don’t know where to turn. 

A full-spectrum doula helps provide childbirth and reproductive health education to their clients. This helps the client understand what’s going on with their body, as well as what their choices are in terms of medical support. This could look like educating people on the risks and benefits of pain management medications in labor, or discussing what their burial options are for their stillborn. 

They can help their clients make informed choices on what to do with their bodies, as well as create a plan of preferences for what kind of medical care they’d like to seek, as well as aftercare. 

Physical support

Whether it’s a live birth, a pregnancy loss, or postpartum, the reproductive journey can be full of discomfort and pain. Having someone there to provide relief from some of this discomfort can make a world of difference.

Physical support during birth or pregnancy loss could look like:

  • Gentle massage or acupressure
  • Hip compressions to ease contractions
  • Making sure the client stays hydrated 
  • Feeding the client snacks if they’re able to eat and have an appetite
  • Making sure the client’s partner or family members have slept, eaten, and are staying hydrated
  • Using heat or ice packs for discomfort
  • Simply holding the client’s hand or hugging them

Again, full-spectrum doulas do not provide medications or administer physical medical support unless it’s under a different role they might have, like a nurse or acupuncturist.


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Emotional support

All sorts of emotions can come up no matter the outcome of a pregnancy. Full-spectrum doulas are there to provide support through the process.

Sometimes people just need to be seen and heard, whether they’re newly postpartum or are coping with a pregnancy loss. Full-spectrum doulas can help people navigate life after a miscarriage or pregnancy loss.

Unless they are specifically trained as a mental health provider, a doula will know when to refer their client out if their client’s mental or emotional needs are outside of their scope of practice. 

Advocacy

Like we discussed earlier, it can be difficult for many people to feel seen and heard by their medical providers, especially if they’re a part of a marginalized community.

A full-spectrum doula typically helps show their client what their rights are and how to advocate for themselves if need be. They may also step in if they witness a medical provider crossing their client’s boundaries or violating their right to choose, and if their client isn’t in a position to speak up for themselves (like in the heat of labor).

Holding space

Last, but certainly not least, a full-spectrum doula holds space. What does this mean? Holding space may feel like an abstract term if you’re not familiar with it. But with something as sensitive as reproductive health, holding space can make the difference between a person feeling supported through their journey or not.

“Holding space” means maintaining a sense of calm, ease, and groundedness during people’s most intense and intimate moments. While it’s not something that you can see exactly, it is palpable and can be felt. 

Think of the last time you or a loved one were going through something difficult, and instead of trying to fix or change the situation, you simply sat there with each other through the intensity. That’s holding space.

Each doula is different

This is a general overview of what a full-spectrum doula does. These duties can vary depending on a doula’s background and skillset, as well as their clients’ individual needs. 

For example, someone who has cooking experience may offer postpartum meal prep, an herbalist might create herbal medicine, and so on. 

A client who gives birth at home will have different needs than someone who has a cesarean section in a hospital, or someone who is anticipating a miscarriage. 

Who Typically Uses a Full-Spectrum Doula?

The great thing about most full-spectrum doulas is that they make it a point to be as inclusive as possible in their work so that people who need support can find it.

Anyone who needs support during their reproductive health journey may use a full-spectrum doula. 

This could include:

  • Trans or non-binary individuals seeking support
  • Someone who is expecting to have a miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Someone who is having an abortion
  • Someone who needs help immediately postpartum
  • Someone who is having a home birth
  • Someone who is planning on having an epidural birth in a hospital

The kind of people that full-spectrum doulas support typically ranges widely to ensure that anyone who requires reproductive health care, can access it. 

How to Find a Full-Spectrum Doula

Now that you have a clearer understanding of what a full-spectrum doula does, you may want to find one for yourself. 

When finding a doula, compile a list of questions to ask them like:

  • “What kind of people do you normally work with?”
  • “Do you use a backup doula in case of emergencies?”
  • “Where did you do your training?”

Here’s how to do that:

Go to a directory

There are a few websites out there where doulas can list their skillset and focus. Here are a few directories that you can turn to:

This can help you narrow down to care providers that fit your needs. With the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more full-spectrum doulas have started to provide remote care. So even if someone isn’t available to you locally, you can find someone who can offer support.

Social media

Another option is to turn to a search engine or social media. You can search on Facebook, or through hashtags on Instagram or LinkedIn. This will help you get a better idea of who the doula is and what they offer

Here For it All: Full Spectrum Doulas

Full-spectrum doulas are here to support people no matter what their reproductive health or loss journeys look like. These people are full of heart, and dedicate their lives towards serving people during their most intense and intimate moments. 

If you are looking for a full-spectrum doula to support you in your journey, ask around and read reviews, and listen to your intuition. If someone feels like the right fit and like they resonate with your needs, their experience doesn’t have to matter as much. What matters most is that you feel safe, seen, held, and supported by your full-spectrum doula. 


Source:
  1. Hoyert, Ph.D., Donna L.“Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2019.” National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. cdc.gov 

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