Opill: Is this new birth control pill right for you?

photo of a silver blister pack of birth control pills with the four rows of days of the week

Birth control pills have been safely used in the US (and sold only by prescription) for more than half a century. Just this past summer, the FDA approved Opill, the first daily contraceptive pill intended for sale over the counter. This offers many more people access to a new nonprescription option for preventing pregnancy.

Opill may be available early in 2024, although the exact date and cost are not yet known. Here’s what anyone interested — adults, parents, and teens — should know.

What is in Opill and how does it work?

Opill is a progestin-only form of birth control. That means it uses a single hormone called progestin (or norgestrel) to prevent pregnancy. It works by

  • affecting ovulation so that the ovaries do not release an egg every month
  • thickening cervical mucus, which blocks sperm from reaching an egg
  • changing the uterine lining in ways that keep a fertilized egg from implanting.

How effective is Opill at preventing pregnancy?

It depends on how consistent you are about taking Opill:

  • Perfect use means taking the pill every single day at the same time. With perfect use, Opill is 98% effective. That means that if 100 people take the medication perfectly, two or fewer people would become pregnant. Taking a pill perfectly can be difficult, though.
  • Typical use averages how well a method works to prevent pregnancy when real people use it in real life. It considers that people sometimes use the pill inconsistently, like forgetting a dose or not taking it at the same time every day. With typical use, Opill is 91% effective. This means that if 100 people use Opill, but don’t take it perfectly, at least nine could become pregnant in a year.

It's also important to know that some medications make Opill less effective at preventing pregnancy. These include medicines used to treat migraines and seizures. Even though this birth control pill will be available over the counter, you should ask your health care provider if any medicines you take could make it less effective.

How do you take Opill?

  • Take it once a day at the same time each day until you finish the entire pack.
  • Sticking to a consistent time of day, every day, is crucial. Timing matters with progestin-only pills like Opill because this medication works by raising progestin levels. However, progestin only stays elevated for 24 hours after you take each pill. After that, the progestin level will return to normal.
  • After you complete a 28-day pack, you should immediately start a new pack of pills the next day.

What happens if you forget to take a dose at the specific time or miss a dose?

  • If you take the pill more than three hours late it will not be as effective at preventing pregnancy.
  • Take the missed pill as soon you remember.
  • You will need to use a backup birth control method such as condoms every time you have sex for the next 48 hours.

Is Opill safe for teenagers?

Opill is generally safe for most people who could get pregnant, including teenagers. There’s no evidence to suggest that safety or side effects are different in teenagers compared with adults.

Research done by the manufacturer has established the safety of Opill in people as young as 15 years old. It will be available without an age restriction.

When teens use birth control, what is the best choice for them?

There isn't a one-size-fits-all birth control method for all teenagers. The best method is the one a teen personally prefers and is committed to using consistently.

For teens who struggle with taking medication at the same time every day –– or anyone else who does –– Opill may not be the right choice. Fortunately, there are many options for preventing pregnancy, catering to individual preferences and goals.

Learn more about different contraception methods at the Center for Young Women’s Health website.

What side effects are common with Opill?

Progestin-only pills are usually associated with mild side effects. The most common side effects are:

  • unexpected vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • acne
  • headache
  • gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, and bloating
  • change in appetite.

Opill does not cause problems with getting pregnant in the future, or cause cancer. Unlike birth control pills that combine the hormones estrogen and progestin, Opill will not increase the risk of a developing a blood clot.

Will Opill cause any mood changes?

Research looking at possible effects of progestin-only pills on mood is limited, so this is unclear. We do know that most people who take hormonal birth control methods do not experience negative mood changes.

Fortunately, there are many different types of effective birth control. If one method causes you unwanted side effects, talk to your health care provider. Together, you can figure out if another type of birth control may work better for you.

Can it be used as emergency birth control?

No, it should not be used as emergency birth control.

What should you know about STIs?

This type of birth control does not protect you from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as syphilis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia.

You can reduce the chance of getting STIs by correctly using condoms each time you have sex. There are different types of condoms: one made for penises and one made for vaginas.

Vaccines help protect against some STIs such as hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV). A medicine called PrEP can help prevent HIV. Ask your medical team for more information about the right choices for you.

When will Opill be available and what will it cost?

The timeline for availability and the cost of medication is determined by the manufacturer. At time of FDA approval, it was expected to hit shelves in early 2024. No updates have been released for the exact date or estimated cost of the medication.

About the Authors

photo of Candice Mazon, MD

Candice Mazon, MD, Contributor

Dr. Candice Mazon is a second year adolescent medicine fellow at Boston Children's Hospital. She's a board certified pediatrician and received her training at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. She earned her MD degree from Drexel University … See Full Bio View all posts by Candice Mazon, MD photo of Amy Desrochers DiVasta, MD, MMSc

Amy Desrochers DiVasta, MD, MMSc, Contributor

Amy Desrochers DiVasta MD, MMSc, is chief of the division of adolescent medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. She is the co-director of the adolescent long-acting reversible contraception program, and co-director of the reproductive endocrinology and PCOS … See Full Bio View all posts by Amy Desrochers DiVasta, MD, MMSc


Long-lasting C. diff infections: A threat to the gut

Gloved fingers holding lab dish with red scratches and dots of bacteria on clear growing media; concept is testing for C. diff

If you’ve ever dealt with diarrhea, you know how quickly it leaves you feeling depleted. Now imagine a case that rages on and on — or comes back again and again.

This is the reality for nearly 500,000 Americans each year who have the bacterial infection known as Clostridioides difficile, or C. diff. Virulent diarrhea and inflammation of the colon can even turn life-threatening.

This primer will help you understand how C. diff spreads and releases toxins, what the common symptoms are, and who is most vulnerable. Dr. Jessica Allegretti, director of the fecal microbiota program at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, also touches on promising preventive strategies and treatments.

How does C. diff spread?

Like many bacteria, C. diff is present in our stool. It’s carried by virtually everyone — on our skin and even on the soles of our shoes. When C. diff bacteria are outside the body, they are inactive spores. They only have a chance to become active when they’re swallowed and reach the intestines.

Even then, many people who swallow C. diff spores never become ill. The spores only sicken people whose gut microbiome — the trillions of organisms living in their intestines — becomes imbalanced for one of the various reasons described below. When an imbalance occurs, the spores start to multiply and create toxins that lead to a C. diff infection.

“Many of us are colonized with C. diff bacteria without any consequences,” says Dr. Allegretti. “We’re swallowing C. diff spores all the time. Only under the right circumstances will the spores germinate and release a toxin. It’s the toxin that makes you sick.”

What are the symptoms of a C. diff infection?

The symptoms mimic those of many other types of gastrointestinal ailments. Initially, this may make it difficult to tell the infection apart from milder illnesses.

Symptoms to watch for include

  • persistent diarrhea lasting three or more days
  • nausea
  • fever
  • stomach pain or tenderness
  • appetite loss.

“C. diff isn’t something that people in the general population should be walking around scared of,” Dr. Allegretti says. “But if you need to take an antibiotic, be on the lookout for diarrheal symptoms after finishing the course of antibiotics. Diarrhea that’s associated with antibiotics alone should resolve once you finish taking the medication.”

Who is most vulnerable?

A few sobering facts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • C. diff is the top cause of health care-associated infections in the US.
  • It disproportionately strikes people in hospitals and nursing homes.
  • Among people over 65, one in 11 of those diagnosed with a health care-associated case of C. diff dies within a month.

However, other groups are also susceptible to the infection. Health care-associated C. diff infections are plateauing, Dr. Allegretti notes, while so-called community-based infections that occur among the general population are increasing.

People most likely to experience such infections:

  • Are taking antibiotics or have just finished a course of antibiotic therapy. People are up to 10 times more likely to get C. diff while on antibiotics or during the month afterward, according to the CDC. “Not everyone who takes an antibiotic gets C. diff, and not everyone who gets C. diff gets recurrent C. diff,” says Dr. Allegretti. “It has a lot to do with your host response, your gut microbiome, and your individual risk factors, such as immunosuppression or inflammatory bowel disease.”
  • Have a weakened immune system due to cancer, organ transplant, or treatment with immunosuppressive drugs (such as people with inflammatory bowel disease or autoimmune conditions).
  • Have close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with C. diff.

What prevention strategies help block the spread of C. diff?

Hospitals try to prevent C diff. among patients in several ways. They impose scrupulous hand-washing requirements among staff members. Patients who develop new diarrhea are tested for C. diff infection. Those who have it are isolated in their own rooms to help prevent further spread.

Outside of a hospital, you can help prevent this gut infection through a few commonsense measures.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water every time you use the bathroom and always before eating. Clean hands are especially important if you’ve had C. diff or know you’ve been exposed to someone with it. By the way, alcohol-based hand sanitizer isn’t effective against C. diff because its organisms can form resistant spores.
  • Take antibiotics only when strictly necessary and for the shortest period possible. “The biggest thing we can do is advocate for ourselves,” Dr. Allegretti says. “During cold and flu season, we know a lot of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written for infections that are most likely viral, not bacterial. Antibiotics do not kill viruses — and unnecessary antibiotics may upset the bacterial balance in your gut. Ask your doctor: Do I need this prescription? Is there an alternative?”
  • When you do need antibiotics, ask if a narrow-spectrum antibiotic would be effective for your type of infection. Why? Broad-spectrum antibiotics kill a wider array of bacteria. This may be overkill, depleting your gut microbiome unnecessarily and enabling C. diff bacteria to germinate. “The caveat is, we don’t want patients to not take antibiotics they need for an actual infection,” she says. “But have a conversation with your health care team.”

The type of antibiotic prescribed also matters, according to a 2023 study in the journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases. Researchers compared more than 159,000 people who had C. diff infection with 797,000 healthy controls. Study findings suggest that using clindamycin and later-generation cephalosporin antibiotics pose the greatest risk for C. diff infection. Meanwhile, the antibiotics minocycline and doxycycline were associated with the lowest risk.

“But there are very few safe antibiotics with regard to C. diff risk,” Dr. Allegretti says.

Can probiotics help prevent or treat C. diff infection?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that can help keep the gut healthy and are found in supplements, yogurt, and other fermented foods. Two familiar examples are various strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

However, probiotics haven’t been found to prevent C. diff or its recurrence. Research performed in mice and humans suggests that giving probiotics after a course of antibiotics may slow the pace of microbiome recovery. “You’re potentially delaying the recovery of your microbiome with probiotics,” she says.

How is C. diff infection treated?

Ironically, C. diff therapy typically starts with antibiotics, despite the infection’s proliferation due to antibiotic use. The antibiotics of choice include fidaxomicin or oral vancomycin.

However, about one in five people will suffer one or more recurrences –– and with each one, yet another recurrence becomes far likelier, Dr. Allegretti says. A repeat episode may happen because people haven’t disinfected their homes effectively. That leaves them open to reinfection with the same strain of C. diff while still vulnerable.

When C. diff recurs, fecal microbial transplants (FMT) are considered the gold standard treatment. FMT transplants fecal matter from a healthy donor into a patient’s gut, placing it there using an endoscope, enema, or within an oral capsule. This year, the FDA approved two live fecal microbiota products aimed at preventing recurrent C. diff infections.

“We haven’t gotten away from antibiotics yet to treat this disease,” says Dr. Allegretti. “But we have a lot of preventative strategies now. It’s certainly very exciting for people struggling with C. diff infections.”

About the Author

photo of Maureen Salamon

Maureen Salamon, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Maureen Salamon is executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and later covered health and medicine for a wide variety of websites, magazines, and hospitals. Her work has … See Full Bio View all posts by Maureen Salamon

About the Reviewer

photo of Howard E. LeWine, MD

Howard E. LeWine, MD, Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Howard LeWine is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Chief Medical Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, and editor in chief of Harvard Men’s Health Watch. See Full Bio View all posts by Howard E. LeWine, MD


How much sleep do you actually need?

Happy white and black-faced sheep clustered around a big gray alarm clock; crescent moon and clouds against lilac background, concept sleep

On average, how many hours do you sleep each night? For most healthy adults, guidelines suggest at least seven hours of slumber.

But these are general recommendations and not strict rules. “Some people need less than seven hours, while others might need more,” says Eric Zhou with the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Do you need more or less sleep time?

We get it: you know people who swear they only need five hours of sleep per night, yet you feel foggy unless you log in eight to nine hours. The major reason for individual differences is that we often look at sleep the wrong way.

“Instead of focusing exclusively on the number of hours we sleep per night, we should also consider our sleep quality,” says Zhou.

Sleep quality means how well you sleep during the night. Did you sleep straight through? Or did you have periods where you woke up? If so, did it take you a long time to fall asleep? How did you feel when you woke up?

“If you awaken refreshed and feel like you have the energy to get through your day, then I would worry less about the exact number of hours you’re sleeping,” says Zhou.

How does sleep quality affect your health?

Sleep quality is vital for our overall health. Research has shown that people with poor sleep quality are at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

And that’s not all. “Poor sleep also can increase daytime fatigue and make it more difficult to enjoy life,” says Zhou.

Yet it’s normal for people’s sleep patterns to change over time. “Many people are not going to sleep in their 50s and 60s exactly like they did in their 20s,” says Zhou.

Many of these changes are age-related. For instance, your circadian rhythm — which regulates many bodily functions, including our sleep-wake cycle — can naturally get disrupted over time. This means people spend less time each night in restorative slow-wave sleep.

Production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, also gradually declines with age. “As a result of these changes, when we get older we may start to wake up earlier than we did when we were younger, or wake up more frequently during the night,” says Zhou.

How can you track sleep quality?

How can you better understand the factors likely contributing to your sleep quality? One way is to keep a sleep diary where you track and record your sleep.

Every day, record the time you went to bed, how long it took you to fall asleep, whether you had any nighttime awakenings (and if so, how long you were awake), and at what time you woke up. Also, keep track of how you feel upon awakening and at the end of the day.

“After a week or two, review the information to see if you can identify certain patterns that may be affecting your sleep quality, then make adjustments,” says Zhou.

For example, if you have trouble falling asleep, go to bed half an hour later than usual but maintain the same wake-up time. “It is common for people struggling with their sleep to try to get more sleep by staying in bed longer, but this disrupts their sleep patterns and diminishes their sleep quality,” says Zhou.

Three key strategies to support the quality of your sleep

Other strategies that can help support good sleep quality include:

  • maintaining a consistent wake time, especially on weekends
  • limiting daytime naps to 20 to 30 minutes, and at least six hours before the desired bedtime
  • being physically active.

When it comes to sleep quality, consistency is vital. “People with good sleep quality often have a predictable sleep window where their sleep occurs,” says Zhou. “Good sleepers are likely to sleep around the same number of hours and stay asleep through the night.”

The bottom line on getting restful sleep

It’s unrealistic to expect perfect sleep every night. “If you have trouble sleeping one or two nights during the week, that can be related to the natural ebbs and flows of life,” says Zhou. “You may have eaten a big meal that day, drank too much alcohol while watching football, or had a stressful argument with someone. When tracking sleep quality, look at your overall sleep health week-to-week, not how you slept this Tuesday compared to last Tuesday.”

If you are doing all the right things for your sleep but still do not feel rested upon waking, talk to your doctor. This can help you rule out a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, or another health issue that can interfere with sleep such as acid reflux or high blood pressure. Other factors that can affect the quality of your sleep include taking multiple medicines, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and environmental changes like temperature, noise, and light exposure.

About the Author

photo of Matthew Solan

Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

Matthew Solan is the executive editor of Harvard Men’s Health Watch. He previously served as executive editor for UCLA Health’s Healthy Years and as a contributor to Duke Medicine’s Health News and Weill Cornell Medical College’s … See Full Bio View all posts by Matthew Solan

About the Reviewer

photo of Howard E. LeWine, MD

Howard E. LeWine, MD, Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Howard LeWine is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Chief Medical Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, and editor in chief of Harvard Men’s Health Watch. See Full Bio View all posts by Howard E. LeWine, MD


21 spices for healthy holiday foods

Colorful herbs and spices arrayed in sprays and heaped on silver teaspoons against a dark background

The holiday season is one of the hardest times of the year to resist salty, fatty, sugary foods. Who doesn’t want to enjoy the special dishes and treats that evoke memories and meaning — especially during the pandemic? Physical distancing and canceled gatherings may make you feel that indulging is a way to pull some joy out of the season.

But stay strong. While it’s okay to have an occasional bite or two of marbled roast beef, buttery mashed potatoes, or chocolate pie, gorging on them frequently can lead to weight gain, and increased blood pressure, blood sugar, and “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Instead, skip the butter, cream, sugar, and salt, and flavor your foods with herbs and spices.

The bounty of nature’s flavor-makers go beyond enticing tastes, scents, and colors. Many herbs and spices contain antioxidants, flavonoids, and other beneficial compounds that may help control blood sugar, mood, and inflammation.

Amp up holiday foods with herbs and spices

Try flavoring your foods with some of the herbs and spices in the list below. Play food chemist and experiment with combinations you haven’t tried before. The more herbs and spices you use, the greater the flavor and health rewards. And that’s a gift you can enjoy all year through.

Allspice: Use in breads, desserts, and cereals; pairs well with savory dishes, such as soups, sauces, grains, and vegetables.

Basil: Slice into salads, appetizers, and side dishes; enjoy in pesto over pasta and in sandwiches.

Cardamom: Good in breads and baked goods, and in Indian dishes, such as curry.

Cilantro: Use to season Mexican, Southwestern, Thai, and Indian foods.

Cinnamon: Stir into fruit compotes, baked desserts, and breads, as well as Middle Eastern savory dishes.

Clove: Good in baked goods and breads, but also pairs with vegetable and bean dishes.

Cumin: Accents Mexican, Indian, and Middle Eastern dishes, as well as stews and chili.

Dill weed: Include in potato dishes, salads, eggs, appetizers, and dips.

Garlic: Add to soups, pastas, marinades, dressings, grains, and vegetables.

Ginger: Great in Asian and Indian sauces, stews, and stir-fries, as well as beverages and baked goods.

Marjoram: Add to stews, soups, potatoes, beans, grains, salads, and sauces.

Mint: Flavors savory dishes, beverages, salads, marinades, and fruits.

Nutmeg: Stir into fruits, baked goods, and vegetable dishes.

Oregano: Delicious in Italian and Mediterranean dishes; it suits tomato, pasta, grain dishes, and salads.

Parsley: Enjoy in soups, pasta dishes, salads, and sauces.

Pepper (black, white, red): Seasons soups, stews, vegetable dishes, grains, pastas, beans, sauces, and salads.

Rosemary: Try it in vegetables, salads, vinaigrettes, and pasta dishes.

Sage: Enhances grains, breads, dressings, soups, and pastas.

Tarragon: Add to sauces, marinades, salads, and bean dishes.

Thyme: Excellent in soups, tomato dishes, salads, and vegetables.

Turmeric: Essential in Indian foods; pairs well with soups, beans, and vegetables.

About the Author

photo of Heidi Godman

Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Heidi Godman is the executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter. Before coming to the Health Letter, she was an award-winning television news anchor and medical reporter for 25 years. Heidi was named a journalism fellow … See Full Bio View all posts by Heidi Godman

About the Reviewer

photo of Howard E. LeWine, MD

Howard E. LeWine, MD, Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Howard LeWine is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Chief Medical Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, and editor in chief of Harvard Men’s Health Watch. See Full Bio View all posts by Howard E. LeWine, MD


What does a birth doula do?

A birth doula in blue top smiles at a pregnant woman seen from the side wearing a hospital gown

Childbirth — painful, messy, unpredictable — has been part of humankind for time immemorial. And in the US, which has surprisingly high rates of avoidable complications and maternal deaths, more people seem to be seeking out doulas for additional care during pregnancy and birth, says Natalia Richey, interim chief midwife in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Some research suggests that doula care may benefit both mother and baby. But what does a birth doula do? While neither a midwife nor a doctor, a professional doula can provide emotional and physical support to women during pregnancy and throughout the birthing process.

Here’s what to know if you’re considering doula care.

What’s the difference between doulas and midwives?

Midwives and doulas tend to have a few overlapping duties. But there’s a key difference: midwives provide medical care and doulas don’t.

  • Midwives: Their primary responsibility is to maintain the physical health of a woman and her baby throughout childbirth. Certified nurse-midwives like Richey are also trained nurses, but most midwives have undergone some type of medical training. This may vary depending on state laws.
  • Doulas: Unlike midwives, doulas don’t perform any medical tasks. Their main role is to help laboring women remain comfortable and calm using various methods, including suggesting comfort measures and optimal positions for labor and pushing.

“Many women hire doulas if they’re trying to have an unmedicated birth,” Richey says. “Doulas are really good at knowing what techniques — such as walking, showering, massage, or aromatherapy — can help a woman through the pain. It’s like having a coach.”

Are doulas trained or licensed?

Be aware that doula training varies widely. There are no formal rules requiring licensing or certification. Many doulas, however, seek certification from the more than 100 independent organizations that offer some type of doula training and credentials, according to the National Health Law Program.

Is doula care covered by insurance?

Private insurers often do not cover doula care, which can cost several thousand dollars when arranged for privately.

However, some employers — including Walmart — will help pay for doula care. And some hospital systems, particularly in low-income or medically underserved areas, have doula programs aimed at improving maternal care during and after pregnancy. Others may arrange doula support for people with limited resources who might otherwise be alone during the later stages of pregnancy and birth.

As of February 2023, 10 states and the District of Columbia provided Medicaid coverage for doula services. Other states are in the midst of implementing coverage. Most of the states that provide Medicaid coverage for doula care require doulas to be trained or certified by an approved organization.

Can working with a doula improve birth outcomes?

A 2023 analysis in the journal Cureus reviewed 16 individual studies done over 22 years. It found doula support was linked with better birth outcomes, such as fewer C-sections and premature deliveries, and shorter length of labor.

Additionally, the emotional support provided by doulas was associated with less anxiety and stress in birthing mothers. Among low-income women, doula support was shown to improve breastfeeding success.

“It’s impressive,” Richey says. “I think those improved outcomes are due to having an expert in the labor process who isn’t a medical person but is just there for you from moment to moment.”

How do people collaborate with doulas?

Agreements about care vary. Typically, doulas meet with women every few months through their pregnancy to discuss their goals for birth (such as skipping pain medication, for example), and to build rapport with both the expectant person and their spouse or partner.

Like obstetricians, doulas are on call 24/7 to support clients who have gone into labor or who have their labor induced. Doulas stay throughout the birth process.

“Having someone there who’s seen quite a few births, who can support and advocate for them, can be a huge comfort,” says Richey.

This may be especially important to women with limited resources, particularly those who might otherwise be alone during the later stages of pregnancy and birth. “Doulas remind women that they’re okay and can get through this process — all the things many of us take for granted,” Richey says.

How might a doula work with the OB/GYN team?

Usually, this is a seamless process, Richey says. If a hospital arranges for a woman’s doula, OB/GYN team members may meet the doula a couple of times before childbirth. Meanwhile, a doula who’s been hired privately will usually only meet the larger OB/GYN team when the woman arrives at the hospital to give birth.

When everyone sticks to their assigned roles, all goes smoothly. For a doula, that may mean suggesting nonpharmacological ways to ease pain and help labor progress. Boundaries are important, though, when medical intervention is needed.

“If the baby’s heart rate is down, for instance, the expertise needs to be left to the midwife or doctor,” Richey explains.

What questions should you ask if you’re interested in working with a doula?

Richey suggests starting by asking yourself:

  • What are my hopes and goals for the childbirth process? Might a doula enhance my ability to achieve them?
  • How do I envision my support team during delivery? Do I have a partner, a mom, or a friend I want there? Would a doula add to any support I already have?
  • Do I have friends or family members who have used doulas in the past? What were their impressions of the experience? Can they recommend a doula?

If you contact a doula to explore your options, ask about:

  • their training and certification
  • how many births they’ve attended
  • how they believe they can help you during your pregnancy and during labor
  • how they will collaborate with your partner or spouse and the medical team
  • whether they provide support after a birth — if so, what type of support and for how long?

“Take the time to meet with any doula you’re considering and make sure they’re a good fit,” Richey advises, “because this is someone who will be there during one of the most vulnerable times of your life. Having someone there who doesn’t make you feel safe and comfortable can affect birth in a major way.”

About the Author

photo of Maureen Salamon

Maureen Salamon, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Maureen Salamon is executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and later covered health and medicine for a wide variety of websites, magazines, and hospitals. Her work has … See Full Bio View all posts by Maureen Salamon

About the Reviewer

photo of Howard E. LeWine, MD

Howard E. LeWine, MD, Chief Medical Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Howard LeWine is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Chief Medical Editor at Harvard Health Publishing, and editor in chief of Harvard Men’s Health Watch. See Full Bio View all posts by Howard E. LeWine, MD