GUIDE: how to become a doula

Last updated: February 25, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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GUIDE: how to become a doula
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Doulas have a special job to do. They support new parents as they navigate pregnancy, labor, and the newborn stage.

While they're not medically trained, doulas are present during births. They help mothers feel more comfortable while working closely with other health professionals.

Becoming a doula isn't a long process, but you'll need to be committed to the job. Doulas are usually self-employed and need to be available around the clock.

If you're interested in this career path, there are a few things you should know. In this guide, you'll learn about the doula role and the most common duties performed in this position. We'll also give you a rundown on how to become a doula.

Now, let's get to it.

What is a doula?

A birth doula (pronounced doo-lah) helps new parents through the different stages of pregnancy, birth, and beyond. They work with parents to create birth plans while giving them emotional, mental, and physical support.

For example, a doula might be with a woman while she gives birth. Doulas may also offer coaching or relaxation services, such as massage.

Doulas act as advocates for mothers and can help them understand complicated medical jargon. And while they aren't medically qualified to assist in the birth itself, doulas do provide support and guidance for a mother-to-be. However, expectant mothers still need to see a midwife or licensed physician for their baby's actual birth.

There are different types of doulas, including antepartum doulas, birth doulas, and postpartum doulas. We’ll look at each of these roles in depth through the course of this article.

Doulas often travel to different locations to do their jobs. They may visit a mother-to-be in a hospital or attend a home birth.

How much does a doula make? While the rate varies, the average salary in the U.S. is $24.30 per hour or $37,514 per year.

Those in the lowest percentile make around $12.37 per hour, while the highest earners make up to $43.63 per hour.

What’s the difference between a doula and a midwife?

Doulas and midwives both care about the health and well-being of parents and their babies. However, the two roles are different.

Unlike doulas, midwives have medical training. To work as a midwife, you'll need to complete a bachelor's degree and get a license. Midwives can deliver babies, prescribe medications, and provide medical advice.

The education requirements for a doula are significantly fewer. Doulas have a coaching and supportive role before, during, and after birth. They can't deliver babies or provide medical assistance.

Doulas and midwives can work side by side. In complicated births, the doula will need to get help from a midwife or licensed physician.

What does a doula do?

What are the most common doula services? Let's take a look at a day in the life of these birth professionals.

Provides support

A doula's main goal is to provide support. This can be either emotional or physical support for new moms and dads. With the right doula, parents' experience during pregnancy and childbirth is positive.

Having a baby is typically daunting, and parents don't always know what to expect. Before a woman goes into labor, the doula can answer any questions they may have. They can help create a birth plan and make the parents feel comfortable with the birthing process.

Some mothers-to-be experience medical or psychological issues during their pregnancies. Antepartum doulas are trained to provide care for these individuals.

Parents-to-be must deal with medical healthcare providers, such as midwives and doctors. A doula can help make communication easier by explaining complicated medical terminology and advocating for their clients.

Is present during labor

Birth doulas are often with parents-to-be during labor, either in a hospital or home setting. They provide coaching services and give moms the confidence to get through childbirth.

For example, they can offer helpful breathing techniques and reassurance. Some doulas can even support moms with relaxation massages, bathing, or walking around.

Every birth plan and labor is different. Some women have specific requests, and doulas can make sure they're followed. Whether the mother-to-be wants music, aromatherapy, or visitors, doulas can help make it happen.

While doulas can't perform medical exams, they do have extensive knowledge. They'll look out for any complications during childbirth and get support from a medical professional if needed.

Educates parents

There's a lot to learn about having and raising a child. Doulas can provide childbirth education services for parents-to-be.

For example, they can explain the birthing process, talk about changes that will happen to a woman's body, and show parents how to swaddle their new babies.

Doulas can regularly meet with couples during their pregnancy. During these sessions, they can offer information about each stage of pregnancy and prepare parents for the big day.

Doulas can also educate the mother's partner or support person. They'll share tips on how the partner can support the new mom and help care for the baby.

Offers postpartum care

Moms can also access postpartum doula services. Big changes happen after childbirth, and doulas can help parents and their babies through the first few hours, days, and months.

For example, when the child is first born, the doula can encourage parents to begin skin-to-skin contact with their baby. This is done to regulate the newborn's temperature and heartbeat, and it can also help the new parents establish a bond with their child.

Doulas can also help new moms with breastfeeding and teach them how to bathe their babies.

During the postpartum period, a doula can be available to answer questions and offer support.

How can you become a doula?

Can you see yourself working in this role? Here's a step-by-step guide to starting your doula career.

1. Learn about the role

Before you start a new career, it's a good idea to learn as much about the role as you can. We've already told you about some of the most common doula duties, but you can also do research on your own.

If you know anyone in the healthcare field, you can chat with them about the job. You can also talk to parents about their experiences during childbirth. Did they have a doula? If they did, what kinds of things did the doula help them with?

Doulas need proper training, and you'll need to complete a program to become certified. Before you enroll, chat with a course counselor to understand the demands involved in being a doula. You can also ask them about other potential career pathways.

Remember, doulas need to be there for women during pregnancy. If you're a birth doula, you may need to be available at night and on weekends and holidays.

2. Enroll in a training program

You won't need to complete a bachelor's program to become a doula.

Many educational institutions offer doula courses. These programs vary in length, with some taking a few weeks and others taking months.

You can expect around 28 hours of education and training. If you want to work as a postpartum doula, you'll need an additional 27 hours.

Courses can be completed in person or online, and you can usually study at your own pace.

Doula training programs cover different topics. For example, you'll learn about the birth process, newborn care, ethics, confidentiality, the pelvic floor, networking, infant mortality, and pregnancy.

3. Get work experience

You'll get practical experience during your birth doula training. Doulas need to attend up to five births before they can graduate.

The training organization will usually help match you with moms-to-be. You should try to be present at three vaginal births at hospitals, one birth in the parents' home, and one cesarean section.

This hands-on practice gives new doulas a chance to use their skills. As you support women during labor and childbirth, you'll start to gain confidence.

Work experience also helps you get to know current healthcare professionals and start building your network.

4. Get certified

In the U.S., a certification or license isn't always a requirement to become a doula. Because the rules can vary, you should check with your local government regulations.

Despite this, a license can improve your chances of getting work. The process can also help you gain additional knowledge and enhance your skills.

The steps to get certified depend on the organization. For example, you may need to complete a workshop and attend a certain number of births. These need to be signed off by the mother-to-be and a healthcare professional. After this, you can pay a small fee and apply for a license.

There may also be a licensing exam. This is a closed-book written test supervised by a proctor.

You'll need to pay a fee each year to maintain a valid license.

5. Apply for a job

Most doulas are self-employed, meaning they find their own clients and choose their own hours. Keep in mind that birth doulas need to be on-call because women can go into labor at any time.

Alternatively, you can become an agency doula. In this position, a doula agency connects parents to doulas in their area.

Sometimes, hospitals employ doulas. You can check with your local healthcare organization or search for doula jobs on our job board.

6. Grow your network

Doulas rely on word of mouth to gain new clients. When you provide high-quality, reliable service, parents will be more likely to recommend you. You can encourage happy moms and dads to share your details with ‌other expectant parents.

You can also get to know other health professionals. As mentioned earlier, doulas work in a range of settings, including hospitals.

You can collaborate with doctors, nurses, and midwives and start growing your professional network. If an opportunity comes up, someone you know may recommend you.

7. Keep learning

Don't be afraid to ask other healthcare professionals questions. It's important to keep learning, and mentors will give you ongoing support.

New technologies and treatments are constant in this field, and keeping up to date is key to a successful business.

As you progress in your career, you can upskill and grow your list of services. For example, if you've already done birth doula training, you can take a short course to learn about postpartum care.

Some doulas enroll in college to eventually become midwives or nurses.

What skills do you need to be a doula?

If you want to be a successful doula, you'll need a few skills. Doulas need to be compassionate, caring, and excellent communicators.

Communication includes both verbal and written communication. Doulas have to keep accurate records, and they need some computer skills to do so.

Body language is also important because this can help your clients feel relaxed. For example, if you cross your arms and avoid eye contact with them, that'll convey a lack of confidence and possibly a bad attitude.

As a doula, you'll also need to be mindful that every client is different. There may be cultural and religious differences between you and them, and some parents-to-be may only speak English as a second language. Doulas need to be adaptable — modifying their services as necessary to meet their clients' needs.

Doulas need excellent time management and problem-solving skills, as well as attention to detail.

Where to get a job as a doula

As mentioned earlier, doulas often work for themselves. As such, you'll learn how to grow your business during your doula training program.

You may also find work at a doula agency or in a hospital. Not sure where to start? You can search for doula jobs on our job board.

Create a free account and join our community discussions. You can chat with others in the healthcare field and ask them questions. When you build a profile, you can connect with others and start growing your professional network online.

Becoming a doula

Want a flexible career working with pregnant women and newborns? Consider becoming a doula.

A doula's daily duties include providing emotional and physical support to both parents and being present during labor.

Doulas can also educate their clients and provide postpartum care. They can support moms with breastfeeding and show both parents how to bond with their babies.

There are a few steps to becoming a doula. First, you should learn about the role to make sure it's right for you. Next, you'll need to enroll in a training program, which may take a few months to complete.

There's also an optional certification process you can go through before you start working as a doula. Don't forget to grow your network and continue learning to keep your skills up to date.

Looking for work? Head to our job board to see what's available near you. And check out our resource center for more career guides.

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