This is a fairly common question and truthfully, the answer will depend on who you talk to about it. Recently, DoulaMatch.net posted a list of certifying agencies and there are over 100 to choose from as you are starting your journey to become a doula. This can be overwhelming as someone who is trying to get started.
The good news is that there are some things that you can use as a guideline to help you choose which course works best for you:
What is included in the course?
A birth doula course should cover everything you need to do to walk out the door and start attending births. Certainly that will cover topics like:
- the basics of labor and birth
- labor positioning
- non-drug methods of pain relief
- procedures and interventions commonly used in birth
- medications in birth
- cesarean birth
- emotions of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum
- the immediate postpartum period
- basics of breastfeeding
- how to conduct a doula prenatal visit
- how to conduct a doula postpartum visit
- finding doula clients
- how to interview doula clients
- other business basics
- and much more…
The one thing that I would tell you after over 20 years of teaching brand new doulas – you will not learn everything you need to know in one course. This is a basic course, designed to get you working, the work you do at actual births really helps you to solidify the study you’ve done, and shows you areas that you may need to strengthen.
What are the requirements for certification?
Certification looks differently to different organizations. For some, it’s passing a simple test. Other have requirements that include attending births and getting recommendations from the clients you’ve served and their care providers. The easiest way may not always be the best answer for you or your clients. Certification is not a piece of paper, it’s the demonstration that you know what you’re talking about.
Is there recertification required? If so, how frequently?
Remember how I said that when you become a doula and you’re in the process of learning or certifying, you won’t learn everything? It’s true! All these years later and I’m still learning. New research comes out, hospitals and practices change, and I need to be able to grow with them.
A great example is the use of nitrous oxide in labor. This didn’t start being used in my community until a few years ago. Short of how the machine worked, the nurses weren’t taught much about how to get ideal use out of it. Thankfully I had done the research and took a long time to gather how to make this work best for my clients. Working with the nurses, we figured it out. That was a lot of hard work – but, taking classes to gain more knowledge would have been faster!
The good news is that there are a lot of options for continuing education in the birth world. So, even if you don’t need it for recertification, this is something that you can do on your own to gather additional knowledge to help you and your clients. Whether it’s business topics, practical birth skills, or other topics that will be useful knowledge is beneficial for all.
Is there a set of standards used? Is there a code of ethics?
Having a set of standards helps you to know when you are inside or outside the safe bounds for what a doula should be doing. The vast majority of professional organizations give their members guidelines for practice and behavior via the standards of practice and the code of ethics. These include not only how you treat your clients, but how you interact with other professionals.
Where is the course located?
First, let’s discuss in-person courses. You can take a class nearly any time of year and nearly anywhere, but it may not be in a convenient time or location. Sometimes you need to take matters into your own hands. That involves writing to a trainer or the organization that you’re interested in learning from and seeing what you could do to sponsor or host a training in your area. Many organizations are thrilled to have someone local to help them get the word out.
Online courses are available. Some of these are totally online, some are hybrid, with part online, part in person.
Unless these have an in-person component for at least some part of it, I do worry that you will have adequate skills to provide labor support in the same manner. There is something about the hands-on touch and learning how to do physical comfort measures that you can’t get in an offline course.
That said, sometimes there is no way to get an in-person component and you want skills to serve families. Then you do what you do. My advice if this is your situation is to wind up getting into an in-person advanced class somewhere when you can, even if just a couple of hours of skills practice.
How much is the course? Is there a payment plan?
Yes, this is a huge deal for many people. Think of this as an investment in yourself and your business. Just as doulas deserve to make a living wage, so do doula trainers. That said, most doula trainers offer some sort of help, usually in one of the following ways:
- early bird discounts
- payment plans (if you register early enough)
- scholarships (typically partial)
In the scenario above, where I told you to ask someone to come train you to be a doula in your area, you may receive a discount on your fees in exchange for the assistance you provide. This can range from a small reduction to a full scholarship. This may be dependent on the number of people who sign up for the doula training.
Do they have a grievance policy?
A grievance policy is probably the last thing on your mind. But a grievance policy says to your potential clients that you are responsible to something bigger than yourself.
What is the reputation of the organization?
Do your due diligence in finding out the good, the bad, and the ugly of each organization. No organization is the right match for everyone, but what organizations on your list have really high marks in categories that are important to you?
As you can see there are a lot of things to consider when thinking about how do you become a doula! Going in and asking the hard questions up front can really help you feel confident in your choice.
My advice is to narrow down your choices to a handful of organizations using redline items – ones that just don’t meet your needs get crossed off swiftly. From there, do more in-depth research and sleep on it. The decision you make is something that will be with you for a while, but it is not permanent. If later down the road, you want to explore another organization, you can also do that.