What’s the difference between fertility doctors, fertility coaches and doulas, and who should you call, when? Here’s what you need to know.
When you start trying to conceive, you may be overwhelmed by how many resources there are for couples trying to get pregnant. Spend any amount of time in the infertility blogosphere, and you’re bound to run across vocabulary that might be new, or concepts you might never have heard of.
Don’t take our word for it, though. Head over to Pinterest (in fact, you can follow Astroglide TTC while pinning) and search for “fertility” (or any other TTC-related keyword). Before you know it, you’ll learn all about prenatal yoga, the benefits of meditation for fertility, a few quick smoothie recipes and plenty of new words, like “doula” (pronounced “doo-luh”).
Don’t panic! You don’t have to scour each and every fertility blog out there to learn the ropes, and a good first step in your TTC journey (besides, you know, finding a good copilot) is assembling your team of fertility experts, who can then guide you through what you need to know. But what do you need to know prior to assembling that team? What does each of these fertility and childbirth specialists do, and how can they help you grow your family? Read on to find out.
Regardless of their fertility situations and birth plans, most TTC couples in the United States work closely with their primary care physician and an OBGYN during both the pregnancy and childbirth, though you should also talk to each of these specialists before you start trying to conceive to make sure that you’re in the best shape possible for baby. This may entail adjusting your diet or fitness plan, properly timing intercourse, quitting smoking, quitting or reducing consumption of alcoholic beverages and avoiding common fertility pitfalls.
While your primary care or family physician and your OBGYN are the captains of your fertility dream team (of which you and your partner are the managers), you may choose to add other players to your roster. Here’s a quick rundown of what fertility doctors, fertility coaches and doulas can offer during your TTC journey. Remember that you may not need to enlist the help of any of these resources — if you get pregnant within six months of trying, for example, you probably don’t need a fertility doctor or fertility coach, and hiring a doula is strictly optional — but when it comes getting pregnant, just like taking care of your family after birth, it truly takes a village!
Again, if you’re one of the lucky couples who successfully become pregnant after a few tries, you might not need to call a fertility doctor. However, if you or your partner haven’t become pregnant after six months of trying, that’s one of the signs you should see a fertility doctor. (Other signs may include recurring miscarriages, menstrual irregularities or known risks to sperm).
Under the blanket term “fertility doctor,” however, there are a few different types of specialists. When most people think of fertility doctors, they’re probably thinking of reproductive endocrinologists — doctors who specialize in both male and female fertility. However, there are also urologists who specialize in male reproductive health. Remember that 30-40% of infertility issues come from the male partner, so it’s important to analyze the semen early in the process, before implementing solutions like hormonal injections or IVF.
Fertility doctors will help identify any issues keeping you from conceiving, and then address those issues with medical interventions, if necessary. Your doctor can also recommend lifestyle tweaks that can help you become more fertile, from dietary adjustments to using the right kind of personal lubricant.
Trying to conceive isn’t always easy, and when the going gets tough, it can help to have someone walk you through your options and provide emotional support. That’s where fertility coaches come in. Like fertility doctors, fertility coaches are great experts to call before conception happens, but unlike fertility doctors, fertility coaches provide more holistic advice to help you cope with infertility emotionally, physically and spiritually.
This could be anything from guiding you to the right resources, like fertility clinics that specialize in cases like yours, putting together online or in-person infertility support groups to get you in touch with other couples going through similar situations, providing general (not medical) lifestyle advice and helping you talk through the complicated emotions of infertility. Once again, this is an area where men often don’t feel as open to be vulnerable, so fertility coaches can be a fantastic support for men dealing with infertility.
Unlike fertility doctors and fertility coaches, doulas are there for you during and immediately after pregnancy, though some doulas (“birth doulas” and “post-partum doulas”) specialize in one of those milestones. The American Pregnancy Association defines a doula as “a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting, is experiencing labor, or has recently given birth.” So while you might want to call a fertility coach prior to conceiving, a doula can help guide you through the rest of your TTC journey after you finally get to see that glorious BFP (“big fat positive”).
Doulas can help you create and follow a birth plan that gels with your personal beliefs and preferences, while still recognizing the importance of backup plans (there’s nothing wrong with wanting to keep your birth plan as natural as possible, but there’s also no shame in getting an epidural if you need one). Having worked with many couples, they can educate you on what you can truly expect when expecting, and they can also be a familiar face and warm hand to hold when the baby is ready to come out. After birth, doulas can teach you how to feed, bathe and hold your newborn, and provide continuing emotional support.
Tracy Cutchlow (@zerotofivebook) is the author of Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science. As a former personal finance editor at MSN Money, she’s an expert in the financial issues that come along with early parenthood, and how to make it work for your household.
“A big part of your planning should be saving up what I call a ‘fourth-trimester fund,’” says Cutchlow. “Labor is hard, but the first three months with baby are harder. Roughly, $5,000 to $10,000 is a good starting point to get the support you need. This money can go toward:
• Affording or extending a leave from work (for three months)
• Hiring a postpartum doula to come to your house several times a week, if family can't (to cook and clean, to show you ways of being with your baby, to help you with breastfeeding, etc.)
• Help with cooking (to supplement the dozen meals you've hopefully frozen and your meal registry of visitors bringing hot meals)
• Help with tidying (not getting your bathrooms cleaned once a week — I mean picking up the tornado-like mess your house becomes each day)
• Healing and self care (such as postnatal massages)”
We’ve written about the importance of self care when you’re dealing with infertility, but Cutchlow emphasizes that the good self-care habits you establish while trying to conceive (for example, practicing these anxiety-melting stress management techniques) should continue well after you deliver the baby. “I know it's hard to fathom right now how much help you'll need,” says Cutchlow. “That's because our society fails to tell you that new parents need to be taken care of, too, not just babies. In many, many other parts of the world, new mothers are given 40 days of rest. Do your best to create that for yourself.”
Granted, five to ten grand feels like a huge sum of money, especially if you’ve already invested in expensive fertility treatments just to conceive in the first place. One of the ways to make room, says Cutchlow, is to avoid some of the trendy, but non-essential baby items you might run into on Pinterest: “In my opinion, you shouldn't buy anything — a babymoon, decor for a baby's room, nonessential baby gear — until you've saved up your fourth-trimester fund.”
You can also save plenty of money on self care. In most cases, only one partner in the relationship is actually giving birth, so the other partner can learn how to give a relaxing massage for free, using Internet or library resources, or for cheap by purchasing books, online courses or even investing in a low-cost massage tool like a massage glove or Theracane. Your doula can also direct you to helpful resources for self-care.
Also, remember that infertility support network you built while trying to conceive? Not everyone on that list is a card carrying professional. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family and loved ones during this important time.
While there are many great resources out there, from informative blogs to books to the advice of friends and family, there’s nothing quite like the expertise of professionals who work with TTC and pregnant couples on a day-to-day basis. If you ever feel overwhelmed by news headlines talking about how chemicals affect fertility or confused by how much coffee you should be drinking while trying to get pregnant, never be afraid to ask your doctor — that is, of course, what your doctor is there for! But for emotional support, someone to lean on and the occasional shoulder to cry on, you might also want to consider adding a fertility coach and/or doula to your all-star cast.
Do you have a fertility doctor, fertility coach or doula you love, and want to shout them out? Let us know by tweeting us @AstroglideTTC!
Images are for illustrative purposes.