Training to Become a Doula
Becoming a doula takes more than just deciding to help women through pregnancy and birth. Successful doulas are certified through one of many accredited doula organizations, such as DONA International, Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) or the Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators (ALACE ). If you’d like to become a doula, read on to learn about the necessary certifications you must obtain.
While all doula organizations are different, most require you to be a member before beginning any classes or workshops. Typically, the cost of annual membership is $40 to $50.
Once you’ve joined an organization, you should think about what kind of care you feel most comfortable with and eager to provide; this will help you decide which type of doula to become. A birth doula assists the new parents before and during labor (providing relaxation, massage, emotional and information support), while a postpartum doula steps in after the birth and helps the family adjust to having a new baby, provides breastfeeding support and even helps out a bit around the house. If this sounds like something you might want to do, you may consider becoming certified as both a birth and postpartum doula.
Becoming a Birth Doula
Though each certification organization is different, all will provide a list of required reading materials. DONA, for example, requires doula hopefuls to read five books from their reading list . Once you have a good theoretical understanding of doula work, the next step is attending birthing seminars and classes. These are often offered through the certification organization.
After you’ve completed the required seminars and classes, you’ll be able to attend actual births as an unpaid doula-in-training . Attending births is the best way to truly experience what it’s like to be a doula, but you will not charge clients at this stage as you will not be officially certified. The number of births you are required to attend varies among the different organizations.
After you’ve completed all the hours of training and birth evaluations, you’ll have to show proof of your training and most likely write an essay about your experience and thoughts on the importance of doulas. When you’re finished, you’ll submit all of your information and required fees to the doula certification organization and, as long as you’ve met their requirements, you’ll receive certification.
Becoming a Postpartum Doula
While postpartum and birth doulas focus on distinctly different areas of the childbirth process, the steps to certification aren’t all that different. CAPPA and DONA also have a required reading list for those who are seeking postpartum doula certification. Instead of attending births, however, prospective postpartum doulas most likely will be required to participate in breastfeeding workshops and become certified in CPR. Most certification programs also will require that some sort of written work be sent in along with proof of CPR certification and breastfeeding workshop attendance.
No matter what type of doula you want to become, it’s important to get certified, as it’ll make you more appealing to potential clients. Go to the next page to find out more about doula certification and for a more extensive list of certification organizations.
The Importance of Becoming Certified
Though certification is not required to become a doula , it certainly helps if you plan on making a career out of it. Certification, especially through a well-known national doula organization, helps give you credibility and in-depth training that will make you all the more appealing to new clients. Some women fall into a doula career by simply helping out friends and family who, in turn, tell others about them. Before long, they’ve attended dozens of births and may be considered qualified to continue doing so. But others decide to become a doula without ever having attending another woman’s labor; going through a certification program is especially beneficial for such prospective doulas. These programs, which usually include seminars and workshops, also offer a chance for new doulas to network with other doulas, midwives and potential clients.
Also, keep in mind that if you’re hoping to earn money by offering doula services, it’s a good idea to be certified, as it will help justify the rate you charge. If you’re uncertified, potential clients may scoff at a rate they deem — too high– for someone who is not certified. But, on the other hand, you may have attended many more births than a newly certified doula, so rates ultimately depend on the situation and the clients’ needs.
Doula Certification Organizations
Once the decision of going through a doula certification program is made, the next question is, “Which organization should I get my certification through?” There are many national (and international) groups to choose from — and even more locally and regionally. When deciding which doula organization to become affiliated with, consider your values. For example, do you agree with the organization’s code of ethics and standards? If not, keep looking. You should become certified with an organization whose standards you can live up to and vice versa.
Here are some of the most popular national doula certification organizations:
Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators (ALACE)
The international doula organization ALACE has been certifying birth/labor doulas and childbirth educators since 1983, making it the oldest doula training organization in the country. The nonprofit, credited with more than 5,000 doulas trained , also publishes a quarterly journal called Special Delivery.
Birth Arts International
What started as a Massachusetts-based regional certification program called the Green Mountain Doula Guild in 2000 is now Birth Arts International, a national birth and postpartum doula certification organization. Birth Arts offers distance learning as well as 10 to 15 weekend workshops per year.
Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA)
Founded in 1998 , CAPPA is an internationally recognized organization that trains birth, postpartum and antepartum doulas. In 2005, CAPPA started to oversee Operation Special Delivery , which serves the families of all branches of military.
A quickly-growing doula and childbirth educator certification program, Childbirth International assigns its trainees mentors and focuses on how to start a doula practice.
Formerly Doulas of North America, DONA International began as a small organization in 1992 . Today, it’s one of the most, popular doula associations and offers an extensive birth and postpartum doula certification program. DONA also hosts an annual doula conference , bringing together many of its 5,500 members.
International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA)
Offering doula certification since 1997 , the ICEA certifies doulas as well as childbirth, perinatal fitness and postnatal educators.
While this organization only offers postpartum doula certification , it also has opportunities for already-certified doulas of any kind to become doula trainers .
Doula Organizations and Groups
Joining a doula organization is the first step to becoming a certified doula, but it’s also useful when it comes time to start your business or find clients. As with any other profession, belonging to an organization or group will help you to meet others who share your interests and expertise and to network with more-experienced individuals who may be able to give you tips or refer clients.
By joining a respected organization such as DONA International or CAPPA, new and aspiring doulas can connect with thousands of other childbirth experts and find out about special events, conventions and news. Most doula organizations also have mailing lists and host message boards where their members can get in touch, ask questions and locate new clients.
Networking with Other Birth Workers
Networking with doulas or other birth workers outside your organization can also be helpful. Midwives, for example, can be a great source of information on potential clients seeking a doula, and their own clients sometimes may want to hire a doula to complete their birthing team. Remember, midwives and doulas are not the same thing , so you will not be in competition with one another. It’s also a good idea to maintain relationships with nurses and obstetricians/gynecologists you meet while assisting clients. If you live in a smaller town, it’s especially likely that you will work with the same medical providers when assisting clients. Depending on their stance on doulas, they could be invaluable sources of getting new patrons.
Working Directly with Hospitals
While most doulas are hired by individual clients, some hospitals hire doulas to work for them directly . For example, Johns Hopkins University has its own doula training program as part of its School of Nursing. While expectant parents more commonly hire their own doulas, many hospitals that implement doula services do so to address the time constraints on their nurses. Nurses, unlike doulas, work in shifts and can’t always be there for the new or expectant mother when needed. Doulas are hired to stay by the woman’s side throughout her labor to help make the birthing process as pleasant as possible. So, regarding your doula career, keep in mind that you may not have to track down new clients by yourself; an area hospital may be in need of doulas and could be able to provide you with steadier work.
Doula Job Description
While being a doula can be extremely rewarding, it’s important to fully understand the job before deciding to make it your career. One possible downside for many women is that doulas often have unreliable incomes . If you have another job or career, it may be difficult to become a doula unless you’re making a career change or take on a flexible part-time job with an employer willing to work with you and your ever-changing schedules. This brings up another potentially challenging aspect of doula work: the schedule.
While doulas technically can work as much or as little as they want (depending on many clients they take on), they usually will have to be on-call for each client for approximately two weeks prior to the birth and two weeks after. And, of course, labor itself is very unpredictable. As a doula, you will be expected to aid the laboring woman throughout the labor and often several hours after, and labor does not wait for weekends or holidays. Make sure your family, friends and outside employer support you in your decision to become a doula and understand that the responsibility will mean you may have to miss out on certain things.
So, before you decide to start your doula training, make sure you will be able to handle all that comes with the job. If your spouse or partner earns most of your family’s income, you have children who are old enough to take care of themselves and you have a passion for childbirth and helping others through it, then this could be the career for you. But, if you need to make a substantial yearly income (a 2003 study by the University of Michigan Ann Arbor showed that very few certified doulas earned more than $5,000 a year from their doula services alone ) or have family obligations, it may not be the best choice for you. Many doulas whose only problem is the lack of reliable pay, however, have found it fairly easy to supplement their doula income with related jobs such as massage therapy, childbirth education and lactation consulting.