Friday, August 14, 2015

How to Become a Doula

Where did you go to doula school? 

I've been asked this several times now and the answer is: doula school doesn't exist.

Typically, what people mean when they ask this is how do you become a doula.  (Of course this is often asked after I've already answered the what is a doula? question.)

Because there is no national or state level certification, licensure, or standard for doulas there are many routes to becoming a doula.  I'm going to talk about how to become a professional doula because that's what I know.


First, you need to be trained.  But I already have experience with birth, or maybe even supporting women in birth, you say.  If you're representing yourself as a doula and not just an experienced support person, you need to be properly trained.  There is always more to be learned and it's very important that you understand what exactly the role of a doula is if you're going to call yourself a doula.

There are many training organizations out there, some are complete distance learning, some have in-person components, some offer lifetime certifications, others have ongoing education requirements in order to maintain your credentials.  They're not all created equal.

If you're ready to be trained as a doula the best place to start is by exploring the various organizations that train and certify doulas to see which might be the best fit for you.  Here is a chart comparing several of the larger organizations.

I chose to train and certify with DONA International because they're one of the oldest, largest, and most well respected doula certifying bodies.  I very seriously considered pursing a distance learning program because I'm an enthusiastic self-learner, but luckily there was a DONA approved training offered locally in Columbus so I decided to go for the in-person workshop with DONA and I'm SO glad I did!  I love learning at my own quick pace, but I believe there are many benefits to attending an in-person training.  Workshop lengths vary based on the organization and trainer.  The workshop I attended was 4 full days.

After you attend the workshop you are knowledgeable about the basic technical aspects of how to be a doula as well as what your scope of practice is.  Some doulas stop here and practice as a trained, but not certified, doula.


In order to go on to obtain certification as a birth doula there are typically additional requirements beyond the initial training.  To become a DONA certified birth doula, once you have attend the training workshop there is additional required reading, childbirth and breastfeeding education components, attendance, documentation, and evaluations from care providers and clients at a minimum of 3 qualifying births, several essays, professional references, and several other miscellaneous items.

I never questioned whether I would certify, that was my plan from the start.  I'm a professional and it's important to me to be held to the highest standards and that my credentials reflect my skills and expertise, not only to clients, but also to other birth professionals.  The additional requirements to obtain and maintain certification help me to be a more knowledgeable and well rounded doula and hold me accountable to standards set forth not only by myself, but also my certifying organization.

In order to maintain my certified doula credential I have to meet a minimum continuing education requirement of 15 hours every 3 years to ensure that my skills are always growing and that I am staying current with birth practices.  Because I have to re-certify at regular intervals this challenges me to continuously grow as a professional and remain dedicated to my birthwork.

I completed my doula certification less than a year after I started my doula journey, but many doulas spend around 2 years working on their certification, some up to 4. My certified doula credential isn't just some letters after my name, it's an achievement I worked towards for quite a while, propelled by my desire to offer the highest quality and most professional services I can to the clients that I serve.

When searching for and interviewing doulas for your birth it's helpful to ask about their training, experience, and certification.  Ask any doula you may potentially hire why they chose to train with and/or certify with a particular organization.  It can help give you insight into their background as well as the standards that they uphold.

Additional Resources:

Birth Professionals of Central Ohio Classes & Specials

Top Ten Questions for Choosing a Doula Training

What It Means to be a Professional Birth Doula

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