How can I become a doula?

From time to time, people ask me for advice on how to become a doula. Here are some of my suggestions:

Research doula certification organizations such as DONA, ALACE, CAPPA, ICEA, Birth Arts International, Birthing From Within, Childbirth International, and Charis for courses, fees and training details to find the one that best meets your needs.

Contact local birth centers or maternity homes in your area for possible client leads.

Attend ICAN meetings and other local birth-related workshops and events.

Research the type of doula you want to be (birth or postpartum). Big difference! Call some doulas in your area to get the scoop on the local birth scene so you can hear about their experiences and get a better idea of what you might be in for.

Contact local doulas to offer to be a back-up or ask to tag along to a few births for experience.

Google “how to become a doula”. Really. There are some helpful articles out there.

Read birth books. All kinds of books. You never know when someone may come along who has studied the Bradley Method, or HypnoBirthing, or HypnoBabies, or Lamaze, or just your local hospital’s basic birth class or even nothing at all! Be prepared.

Make sure you have lots of support. Being on call for weeks on end requires a reliable support network for child care. Be willing to cancel plans and appointments at any time. Arrange for a back-up doula.

Put yourself out there with a website and a Facebook page. Join local birth, breastfeeding and parenting groups on Facebook and in person. Be active. More than anything, listen.

Put together a healthy pregnancy class for pregnant women and advertise it. Ask for free space at a health food store, yoga studio, chiropractor’s office, anywhere you can think of. Offer the class for free or, even better, a nominal charge and provide each attendee a flier with doula information. Have a sign-in sheet. Follow up on leads a day or two later.

Leave business cards at OB offices, ultrasound offices, birth centers, children’s consignment shops and so on.

Get your paperwork in order. Create an organizational system so you can track client data. I have a Letter of Agreement, a birth summary page, labor notes, phone log and so forth. These can be fluid and evolve as you become more experienced. Good records are very helpful and if you set up a good database, you can create reports on your statistics.

Set yourself apart. What skill do you have or what product can you offer that will give you an edge? Are you a massage therapist? Do you provide an education packet for clients? Are you a certified lactation counselor? Do you encapsulate placentas? Do you offer maternity or newborn photography? Do you teach baby sign language?

Be well prepared for an initial consultation with a potential client. Think about what you might expect a potential client to ask and what you might want to ask a potential client. See my post on: Interviewing a Birth Doula. 

Understand your scope of practice. Know your boundaries. Know when to say no when a client asks you to do something you know may put yourself in jeopardy.

Be professional. Do not bad talk certain providers, go through appropriate channels if a complaint needs to be made, do not share private information about your clients, do not announce their births on social media…. Be professional.

Final notes:

Doula work can be both incredibly challenging and super rewarding. It won’t get you rich. Every birth will bring tears to your eyes. It may drain you sometimes. You’ll see some amazingly empowering moments and some things that make your heart ache. Do not take on more clients than you can handle. Many doulas burn out quickly. Pace yourself. Keep it interesting by incorporating a variety of classes, meetings with local doulas and reading into your schedule. Sometimes you may even need to take a month or two off to recharge.

Most importantly, separate your own personal beliefs from your professional obligation to provide support to a client. If you feel your differences with a potential client are too great for you to be a true support, it is not only OK but perfectly professional to say that you do not feel you are the best choice for them at this particular time. Do not worry that you should take on everyone and everybody. You will not be the right doula for everybody. Find peace with that.

If becoming a doula is your journey, I wish you good luck and many beautiful experiences!

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