You've probably heard friends or fellow pregnant women talking about hiring a doula to help them through labor, delivery and early motherhood. But if you're new to all this, you may be asking yourself: What exactly does a doula do?

Doulas offer physical, emotional and informational support to couples as they prepare to enter parenthood, says Lindsey Tjernlund of Minnesota-based Hummingbird Doula. Doulas — who are trained and certified through organizations like DONA — are most commonly known for helping out during labor and delivery, but a doula's services aren't limited to the big day. They can also help with childbirth education ahead of delivery, lactation support, placental encapsulation and more.

So there you have it: That's what a doula does — but is hiring one the right choice for you? Here's what couples who are considering doula support should know, according to moms who've done it.

A doula can't replace your primary prenatal care provider

'A doula is not a replacement, but an addition to your midwife, doctor or birthing team. Your doula is there for you and only you. Having not had a doula present for my first birth, I can attest that having a doula changed how I was presented with information and treated as a patient. Most provide prenatal and postpartum care as part of their service, which is great because you never know when and where you’ll need them the most!' - Candance P.

Choosing someone you're compatible with is key

'It's basically like having a personal assistant on call pretty much all the time during your pregnancy, the birth of your child, and postpartum when you're learning how to take care of your newborn, it's more of a partnership than a client/business relationship. Make sure you get along . You need to feel completely comfortable with your doula. It's helpful if you have the same sense of humor and share similar values and perspectives on childbirth.' - Krystal R.

A doula can help you navigate the unknowns

'Our doula give us a feeling of security going into labor...We liked knowing we had somebody who is knowledgeable about the process and could advocate with us if necessary. My husband and I joke that she was as much his doula as mine throughout labor.' - Alena G.

Your partner will benefit from this service, too

'Many people hesitate to hire a doula to help with a childbirth because they believe that their husband should play that support role. However, as kind and supportive as my husband is, he does not have the skills to assist in childbirth. My doula put me in comfortable positions, gave me a full-body massage while laboring and advocated for me on my behalf with my midwife when I was unable to speak.' - Leslie F.

The 'crunchy doula' stereotype is not accurate

'Sometimes moms think that working with a doula is really crunchy or progressive, but no matter what type of plan (or lack thereof) you have for your birth, a doula can be your advocate, medical jargon translator, friend, stand-in partner, etc. I had epidurals with both babies, and there was never pressure to do things 'the natural way'.' - Erica K.

Your doula can wear many hats

'Doulas just know... they know where to rub your back to ease the pain of each contraction. They know to bring candles to shift the ambiance in the room. They think quickly and work with the circumstances given...My doula found a solution to whatever issue came up: We needed a car seat. She got one delivered to the hospital. I wanted to get my placenta encapsulated. She had it collected and delivered to the right person. I wanted pictures to capture this beautiful moment. She was able to capture the moment in just the right way. We wanted food. She got the food.' - Reena S.

A doula can help you make tough decisions

' provided guidance as I made choices about delivery, for example: skin-to-skin contact with the baby, what immunizations and tests I did and did not want, what kind of environment I wanted during labor... As a first-time mom, I was overwhelmed with all the options I read online, but an experienced woman who was in tune with both the emotional and technical sides of the experience was helpful to me as I made those key decisions.' - Danielle B.

A tip from the doula herself

'The best time to hire a doula is during your second trimester. This way, you and your partner have enough time to get to know your doula and vice versa, and to create a plan for what your baby's birthday might look like. I typically like to meet with clients two or three times before their baby is born so we can practice comfort measures, birthing positions, and go over all of the questions that arise throughout pregnancy. That said, there's no wrong time to hire a doula. If you're excited about the idea very early on in pregnancy, start interviewing potential doulas right away. If you're already into your third trimester, it's not too late. Some hospitals even have volunteer programs that will call a doula in last minute.' - Lindsey T.