What is a doula?
Since the beginning of the human race, people have been assisting women with the challenge of childbirth in many different ways. In the 1960s, the term doula was first used to describe someone with knowledge and experience that can assist mothers before, during, and after childbirth. Doulas are not medical professionals that administer medication and perform operations. Instead, they are a support system for the mother (and families) as they navigate this process.
Doulas have become more well-known and acknowledged in the last few decades, with more organizations offering certifications and formal training. The basic functions of a doula are to provide physical and emotional support during childbirth, as well as the weeks leading up to it and immediately following. In addition, to support, doulas supply the families with information and act as their advocates in the hospital.
Studies have shown that mothers with a doula are less likely to need C-sections, experience a shorter laboring period, require less pain medication and enjoy a more positive overall birthing experience. They work in partnership with medical teams and families and positively impact everyone in the process.
Duties and responsibilities
Doulas typically meet with expecting mothers and families a few months before their due date. They offer information on what to expect, how to prepare for delivery, and help to develop a birth plan. Once the due date nears, doulas help mothers prepare the household for the baby’s arrival.
In the hospital, doulas provide massages and physical comfort for the mothers. They work with partners to offer breath coaching and relaxation techniques and ensure that the laboring mothers receive nutrients and proper fluids. During the postpartum period, they help with breastfeeding instruction, advice for adequately caring for a newborn, and assistance in caring for the new parents’ needs.
Doulas work in various healthcare facilities, including hospitals and birthing centers. It’s also possible that they may assist with home birth. Beyond the actual labor and delivery, doulas will either meet clients at an office or do home visits to prepare. The environment can be calm or high stress, depending on what part of the process you’re assisting with and how things are going. It’s good to be prepared for a variety of possibilities.
The job can be physically taxing because you’ll be on your feet helping, offering massages, and bringing your patients on walks. If you are helping them with things at home, the chores and housework also require a lot of movement.
Typical work hours
Doulas don’t have a set work schedule. You never know when a new mom will begin laboring, and you will be on call as the doula to help with the entire process. Labor can last anywhere from two hours to three days. Doulas can discuss some details with the parents beforehand, but you can’t plan everything with a birth.
For the appointments before and after birth, doulas have more control over the times and dates offered. Keep an eye on the calendar to avoid multiple clients with similar due dates.
How to become a doula
In order to become a doula, you will need a combination of education, training, and experience. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:
Step 1: Earn your high school diploma
The first step to becoming a doula is to complete high school and earn your diploma or the equivalent. Doulas do not require any college, but having the basic understanding of biology and health that you learn in high school is important.
Step 2: Take a doula training course
Doula training courses are available in most metropolitan areas. Utilize the Doula organizations, like DONA International, to find a course that will help you earn your certification. Typically, the courses include about 12 hours of education in a classroom, about 16 hours of training, and hands-on learning. Finally, students will attend and observe multiple births (usually between two and five) to gain the experience and knowledge required.
Step 3: Apply to be certified
Multiple organizations offer certification for doulas. The two most common organizations are DONA International and Birth Arts International. While it isn’t required, it substantially increases your job opportunities and boosts your credibility. By getting certified, you’re showing that you have completed formal training and possess the knowledge required to earn the certificate.
Step 4: Join databases and gain experience
Register with online databases so potential clients can locate your information and credentials. The popular sites include:
- Dona.org – Doulas of North America
- Doulamatch.com – Online database of certified doulas that allows filtering by location and experience
- Alace.org – Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators database
- Cappa.net – Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association
Each option will give you more exposure and allow you to network with other doulas in your area. Once you’ve worked with a few mothers, you can share references and grow your business.
Step 5: Continue your education
Once you’ve become a doula, staying updated on changing recommendations in the field and medical advancements in labor and delivery is essential. Plus, you’ll need to grow your clientele and build your business. There are some fantastic resources available for doulas to continue their education. Here are a few recommendations to get you started:
- Take the Mastering the Doula Client Interview class to help grow your business and earn more clients. You’ll learn how to find your ideal clients, showcase what makes you stand out from other doulas, and practice all the basics of follow-up and good interview skills.
- Udemy offers a course on Resolving Conflict in the Birth Room to give you additional insight into managing high emotions and stress during some births. Doulas might need to help advocate for moms and work with the medical teams, and it’s important to have the skills to manage any potential conflicts or differences of opinion.
- Take the Childbirth: A Global Perspective course from Coursera to learn more about the challenges moms and babies face in the developing world. This course covers specific delivery challenges for maternal and newborn health services and ways to utilize community-based strategies to improve the health of everyone.
- Deep dive into the midwifery model in the Global Quality Maternal and Newborn Care course. With multiple experts providing insight and real-life examples, you’ll understand the benefits of implementing these ideas in your own practice and be able to advocate better for your clients.
There are additional certificates you can earn to improve your offerings as a doula as well. Becoming certified in massage, breastfeeding education, and postpartum care are all fantastic options for doulas working with new moms and families. Consider applying for these to expand your services and increase your own knowledge.
Step 6: Stay current with your certificate
Verify the requirements to maintain your doula certification. Some require additional testing and renewal every three years or so. Again, the certificate isn’t currently required, but it is recommended to show legitimacy.
How much do doulas make?
There are many variables that go into determining how much a doula makes. Some doulas charge a flat rate per birth, and others charge hourly rates. Experienced doulas charge up to $2000 per birth, so their annual earnings depend on how many deliveries they assist with within a year. Doulas working in major US cities tend to make more money and remain busier than in small towns and rural areas.
The top-paying states for doulas to work in are (shown in annual mean salary):
- Alaska – $55,782
- California – $55,583
- District of Columbia – $55,349
- New Jersey – $55,016
- Massachusetts – $54,140
The average national salary for a doula is:
Types of doulas
The roles of doulas are still evolving and growing as more people work toward reproductive justice, but there are four main types of doulas. Most trained doulas can help with more than one area, but it depends on training and experience.
Labor and birth doulas
Labor and birth doulas are the most common. This role meets with new parents in the weeks leading up to the birth and provides information on how to create a birth plan, what to expect in the delivery room, and what preparations they can make for the birth. Birth doulas also help parents learn breathing and relaxation methods.
Antepartum doulas support women who have been put on bed rest during pregnancy. Bed rest requires expecting moms to reduce movement, so a doula can help with household tasks and preparing for the new baby’s arrival.
Postpartum doulas work with new parents after the birth of their baby. They offer advice and information regarding breastfeeding, sleep schedules, and educating the entire family. Parents have many questions when bringing a new baby home, so a postpartum doula can help and assist mom and dad.
Doulas are also useful in other parts of the reproductive space. Patients dealing with miscarriages, pregnancy terminations, surrogacy, adoption, and fertility challenges may use the services of a doula for support and guidance through the process.
Top skills for doulas
Aspiring doulas must love babies. Bringing a new baby into the world can be highly stressful and emotional, so doulas must be calm and able to work in these emotionally charged situations. Doulas are involved in many parts of the labor and delivery process, which can be messy, so the ability to handle blood and other bodily fluids are also essential.
Most doulas must seek out their clients, so it’s important to understand marketing and self-promotion. Strong interview skills are essential because most families talk to multiple doulas before deciding on someone. Having the ability to connect with people while also showcasing your skills and knowledge will help you earn more clients.
Doula training is fairly simple and quick. Learning techniques to assist the expecting mothers and provide care and comfort can happen with some coursework and hands-on training. To become certified, doulas must also attend a certain number of live births. While certification isn’t required to become a doula, it’s strongly encouraged.
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Doulas gain so much insight into family dynamics, and the struggles that new families go through many choose to stay in a career that assists people and strengthens family units. Doulas receive experience with families during the coaching and helping of births and the postpartum period.
There are multiple career paths for anyone who is currently a doula. You could move on and work with families in other ways, like becoming a nanny or a teacher. If you want to stay in the medical field, you could return to school and get your nursing degree or become a doctor. You could also work in a nonprofit helping new mothers find doulas and birthing coaches to help them through their own personal processes.
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Position trends and outlook
Recent years have seen a rise in interest in alternative and holistic healthcare, including doulas during childbirth. More and more families are seeking out the services of doulas as a result. This will likely continue as more medical facilities incorporate doula services into their patient care plans.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many doulas have shifted to providing virtual support to clients. Providing support virtually has created new opportunities for doulas to work with clients who may not have access to in-person services.
Employment projections for doulas
The demand for doulas will continue to increase over the next decade. The statistics and studies about the success of giving birth while using a doula have helped boost popularity and demand. Doula care offers advantages for women giving birth to their first child and provides support and comfort throughout the process. It’s expected to grow from a $13 million industry to more than $24 million by 2034.
Doula career tips
Soft skills and traits for doulas
Familiarize yourself with different types of births. Watch videos, interview people that have gone through unique experiences, and read stories to learn more about the differences. Learn about aromatherapy, meditation, and other relaxation techniques you can practice with new parents. Finding alternative ways to calm people down will come in handy so often during labor and delivery.
Give back to your community. Women’s health is constantly a space searching for volunteers and donations to support women who cannot afford care independently. By giving your time and talents, you’ll be able to meet other people within your industry, gain experience, and do something great for the people of your community.
Commonly required skills and qualifications
Perfect your follow-up communication. Sending your clients a follow-up will help you receive referrals and good reviews. Word of mouth is critical in this space, and you want the moms you’ve worked with to tell their friends and family members how great you were.
Understand the history of doulas and midwives. It’s an area of advocacy and work that will grow and shift, but it’s always good to understand how things have changed over time. Become a certified masseuse. A massage is an excellent form of patient care, especially when providing comfort during labor and postpartum. This certificate will allow you to perform additional services as a doula.
Develop a professional network
Form relationships with nurses and doctors at the local birthing clinics. Teamwork is important for the health and success of new parents and babies. Knowing the medical professionals handling many deliveries, you’ll be one step ahead once you arrive at the hospital. You can also join professional networks, here are a few examples:
- Doulas of North America International
- Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators
- Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association
- American Pregnancy Association
Where the jobs are
- Nourish Birth + Postpartum
- Harmony Doula Group
- Mother Nurture
- Major Care
What is a full-spectrum doula?
Doulas assist in many aspects of women’s health, and the role continues to grow. The healthcare system can be complicated, and it’s good to have someone to help navigate it. Full-spectrum doulas assist with more than just births. They may help with gender transitions, surrogacy, termination of pregnancies, and more.
Do doulas go to medical school?
Doulas do not have formal medical training like a nurse or doctors. Their primary role is to assist the patient with relaxation and breathing during labor. They also supply them with information and are available as a resource to answer questions and give advice.
What is the role of a doula in the hospital?
Doulas provide emotional and physical support to expecting mothers during the birth process. They are valuable resources for new families who are trying to navigate life with a newborn as well. Doulas work with the patients and medical team to provide the necessary care and advocacy for the mother and baby and help to keep things calm.
Can doulas make a good salary?
Full-time doulas with experience can make up to $2,000 per birth, but the salary depends on how many clients they take on in a year. Some doulas are part-time, and others work for companies that manage their client lists. Being a doula can pay a good salary, but it can be inconsistent based on local demand.
How can I become a doula?
There are no requirements to become a doula, but training and certification are recommended. Multiple international organizations offer training curriculum and certification exams for doulas to learn about the birthing process and practice methods to help the mother and baby. It’s also important to witness live births before taking on the role to prepare you for what happens in the room.
Do doulas take care of the children?
Some doulas transition into nannying jobs, but most will move on to new families after birth. Some offer postpartum care and could involve assisting the baby so that the new parents can sleep. Each situation is different, and expectations are set in advance based on the services offered.
Who hires doulas?
Some companies and agencies have doulas on staff that can assist women during the birth of their children. Other doulas work independently and are hired directly by expecting mothers. There is growing evidence that doulas can ease some of the challenges of birth, and more women are seeking them out for their childbirth experiences.
How long do you need to study to become a doula?
The training for a doula can be completed within a few weeks. To become certified, you must complete a mixture of classroom, observation, and hands-on learning. Most programs cost a few hundred dollars and can be completed in a short amount of time.
What is the difference between a midwife and a doula?
Midwives and doulas support couples having a baby, but midwives are medically trained and can provide medical support and advice during birth. Doulas are there for emotional and physical support and education only.
Do you have to be a mom to become a doula?
There is no requirement that doulas need to have personal experience giving birth. Some mothers request doulas who have been through the birthing process because they will have additional personal experience to draw from. Still, many doulas are not mothers or fathers themselves yet.