The 5 Steps to Becoming a Doula in 2020

Doula and pregnant woman doing exercises at home

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Heather K Adams732
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  • A doula is a companion before and during childbirth or adoption.
  • There are birthing doulas, antepartum doulas, postpartum doulas, miscarriage doulas and adoption doulas.
  • To become a doula, choose a specialization, complete training and workshops, join a certifying organization and complete hands-on work with clients.

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It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a team to bring one into the world. Doctors and nurses may first spring to mind as members of a birthing team but women seeking more personalized, holistic coaching and care during the course of both their pregnancy and delivery often choose to include a birthing doula on their team. If you're interested in learning how to become a doula, or just wondering what that even is, read on! We've got everything you need to know about this traditional role.

What is a doula?

A birthing doula is a companion before and during childbirth. Though the origins of the term are up for some debate today the word is generally defined as "labor support." There are other kinds of doulas however, and some offer services not only with labor but also with helping women and their families deal with other reproductive situations such as miscarriage, stillbirth or even adoption. These have become known as "full-spectrum doulas." Still other doulas help individuals through the process of dying, offering a steady and comforting presence for everyone involved. 
Whichever service you provide you'll often get to know your clients sometimes months before the event through which you'll be assisting them. This is an important step, as it allows your clients to become comfortable with you. It also means creating emotional intimacy is a huge part of what it means to be a doula.

A birthing doula, though not a medical professional, is often trained and certified for her role as a birthing companion. She is trained to provide physical comfort in the form of massage and support, and emotional comfort by way of encouragement. A doula will also advocate for a client during the course of her labor by providing information and space in which to make decisions relevant to the health of mom and/or baby. 
If you're wondering how to become a doula, start by familiarizing yourself with pregnancy and childbirth and all the ways in which a mom-to-be could use a little (or a lot) of support. Studies have shown that the presence of a doula generally improves their clients' experience of labor, and many women who engaged a doula for the birth of their first child don't hesitate to do so for their next.

How to become a doubla

1. Choose a specialization (or don't).

The first step in how to become a doula is deciding what kind you want to be. You may decide to become a full-spectrum doula, dealing with any kind of pregnancy and child-related concern. However you may also choose to specialize and became a:
  • Birth doula: Support an expectant mother (and any family members present) during childbirth.
  • Antepartum doula: Take on clients that are more high risk during their pregnancies. If a client is on bed rest her doula may even help with meal prep and some of the house work.
  • Postpartum doula: Helps new moms through typical hurdles such as breastfeeding and getting comfortable with newborn infant care. She may also assist with housework but more usually provides emotional support and practical information.
  • Loss/miscarriage doula: Supports parents who are dealing with the miscarriage or stillbirth of their child. This takes place during and after the actual loss. Many loss doulas have experienced this same situation themselves and are able to relate to clients on a deeply personal level.
  • Adoption doula: May work with both the birth parents and the adopting family, acting as a bridge to help each side through the adoption process. Again, personal experience may influence your decision to pursue this specialization.

2. Complete doula training.

Doulas aren't legally required to complete any training or certification programs, but if you're serious about learning how to become a doula and really make a difference then training is a must. The right program will serve as an introduction into the world of doulas, teaching you about childbirth itself as well as how to offer labor support, grow your skills and even build your business. Make sure you find reputable programs offered by DONA International, International Doula Institute, Lamaze International or other well-established organizations. Each organization offers programs that may differ in their approach to what and how a doula should be, so your next step will be finding the one that's the right fit for you.

3. Choose a certifying organization to join.

After completing your training program the next phase of learning how to become a doula is choosing the right-for-you organization through which to become certified. This may or may not be the same organization through which you received your initial introductory training. And again the different organizations will have different requirements for obtaining certification, and you should make sure your career goals and overall philosophy align with the principles and ethics of whichever organization you join.

4. Attend further classes and workshops.

You may need to pay a fee before you can attend any events hosted by your chosen organization but once you do you'll be free to join any in-person or online classes they offer. Completing a set amount of hours at both workshops and classes is just one of the requirements you'll complete on the way to becoming certified. Once you purchase your "certificate packet," which will spell out those requirements, you'll have a set amount of time to complete all the necessary steps. 

5. Complete hands-on work with clients.

You'll need to assist a certain number of patients, providing full labor support for the moms, before completing certification. There will also be a long list of additional materials you'll need to submit, such as references from at least one client, documenting the forms of care you provided and maybe even a personal essay.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. Learning how to become a doula involves becoming fully-versed in many aspects of prenatal, labor and postpartum care. The good news is once this is all done and you send in all the required forms you'll be a certified doula ready to take on her own paying clients.

How long does it take to become a doula?

You'll need to complete about ten hours of childbirth education, double that many hours for actual doula training and attend usually three or more births. Your timeline for completion will depend on how much time you have to devote to your studies, if you have to travel to attend workshops and how long it takes you to find the required number of expectant mothers who will let you attend their childbirths. And then of course you'll have to wait until the babies actually decide to arrive before you can attend.

How much does a doula make?

Most doulas don't make a lot of money — in fact some never make any money at all, acting in a purely voluntary capacity. Those that do charge for their services generally make $30,000 or less per year, although some may make upwards of $45,000 a year if they live in areas where midwives and doulas are more popular additions to birthing teams. Many doulas supplement their income by becoming lactation consultants or teaching childbirth and labor classes to expectant mothers or aspiring doulas.