How Do I Become a Doula?
Are you ready to birth a new career?
In this (blog post), you will explore the ins and outs of becoming a doula. Having created a multiple 6-figure doula business from the ground up, it is my goal to share the knowledge, lived experiences, and observations of working one on one with clients, new and seasoned doulas over the last decade.
It is my hope that these words will provide clarity and guidance as you navigate this season of “what if.” Is becoming a doula right for you and your family? Read on to explore some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the personal and professional journey of being a doula as your career.
Alyssa Leon, owner & mother, Cherry Blossom Doula Services, LLC
Responding to your most FAQ
Q: How are the birth and postpartum doula roles different?
A: A birth doula primarily supports families during their pregnancy through education and resources, provides hands-on support during labor to manage contractions (surges), positioning for progress, emotional support as labor unfolds and advocacy/encouragement to create healthy communication between the client and their providers.
- Birth doulas are PASSIONATE about the birth process and the variety of experiences that it brings
- Birth doulas attend births in all birth settings: Home, Birth Center, and Hospital; though some may specialize in a certain space
- Birth doulas are “hard on-call” meaning that they can be called into a birth 24/7, sometimes with little-to-no heads up
- Birth doulas are knowledgeable in physiological birth, medical interventions, and pain management options
A postpartum doula primarily supports families during their pregnancy through education and resources, providing hands-on support and wisdom once families bring their babies home. Postpartum doulas provide mother care, newborn education and/or care, infant feeding support, light tidying and laundry, meal preparation, and emotional support.
- Postpartum doulas are PASSIONATE about the fourth trimester, the tender space after families bring their baby (or babies) home
- Postpartum doulas support families in the clients home
- Postpartum doulas are “soft on-call” meaning although there is some variability of when the contract starts (depending on the estimated due date vs when baby decides to be born), typically the shifts are scheduled out ahead of time either (4 hour) day shifts and (8 hour) night shifts or a combination of the two
- Postpartum doulas are knowledgeable in maternal mental health, newborn care, the different methods of infant feeding, and provide innate wisdom for womb healing
Q: Do you have to specialize in one or the other?
A: No, you can choose to offer birth doula and postpartum doula services. Typically, this only works when you are taking a smaller client load.The on-call requirements of being a birth doula can create conflict for your postpartum clients. I recommend specializing in one or the other so that you can continue building on your skills and knowledge, becoming an expert in your craft.
Q: Do you have to be certified?
A: The short answer is no. I know many doulas that are not certified and provide exceptional support.I do believe hands on experience provides invaluable knowledge and is less of a question (by clients) the further into the journey they/you get.
However, there are certain hospitals that require birth doulas to be certified in order to join their clients in triage and the operating room.
There are also insurance companies that will only reimburse clients for birth and postpartum doula support if the doula is certified.
I also believe learning the basics from a specialized program and having a foundation to build from can be helpful when initially booking clients. Being a certified doula can bring peace of mind to expecting families when a doula is just starting off.
Above: a glimpse into postpartum work as a doula.
Q: What are the most recognized trainings?
A: Cappa, DONA, ICEA, and Pro Doula
I am not affiliated with any certification and have no preference of one vs another. However, these are some thoughts to consider when choosing a training (if you decide to get certified):
- It doesn’t have to be “perfect.” Some doulas have decision paralyzation because they feel that the training has to check every single box or that once they decide on one, it means that they are locked in for life. I do think it’s wise to feel aligned with whatever training you decide on because you are spending your time, money, and putting your name behind an organization. But, if you change your mind later on down the road, you are always able to switch to another credentialing program.
- When comparing organizations, look at the cost, the amount of time they allow to certify, if they offer in person or online only, what their requirements are, how often to renew certification, and what that entails.
- Find out if the certification is recognized for hospital doula badge programs and insurance reimbursements
Q: What does a full time doula career look like?
A: Although the definition of “full-time” looks different for everyone, listed below is a general overview:
- Attends 4-6 birth doula clients or 3-4 postpartum doula clients (this is highly dependent on the amount of hours the postpartum families want and typically looks like a minimum 36 hour work week)
- Earns an average of 40k/year (this can easily increase/decrease depending on your rates, the amount of clients you are taking, and if you offer additional add on services)
- Add on services typically include: Education Classes, Birth Photography, and/or Placenta Encapsulation Services
Q: Why do doulas have a high burnout rate within 1-2 years of starting?
A: Witnessing the power of others and precious souls coming into the world, nurturing new and new-again families does not come without a price. The lack of sleep from being called into a birth in the middle of the night and being up for 24+ hours and/or having multiple overnight postpartum shifts (without time to adequately rest) can directly affect your mental health.
Doulas that do not have a substantial emotional and physical support network burn out because this work requires strong boundaries; emotional fatigue will set in if you do not have a healthy support system. Additionally, this work can trigger our own traumas and create biases if we are not aware of and/or healed from our own experiences.
It IS POSSIBLE to have a healthy, balanced, lasting and fulfilling career.
These are tried and true intentional steps to set you up for success:
- Make your emotional and physical health a priority. Seek counseling/therapy to ensure you can provide unbiased support, address any areas of trauma that could affect your ability to support others
- Create healthy boundaries in your personal and professional life, you cannot pour from an empty cup. This includes scheduling regular time off-call, whether that’s a couple days a month and/or taking off a full month at a time, and setting up backup support for events/occasions that you can not miss in your family. Not only do you deserve to have time off, but your clients deserve to have a present doula.
- Find community. Attend birth worker meetups, find a team to be a part of, or connect with a couple of close doulas that you can back up for one another
- Make sleep, whole foods, moving your body, nature, and things that fill your soul a priority.
- Build a strong support system that can support YOU! This includes multiple layers of childcare support for all hours of the day, someone that can let your dogs out, or can bring you a meal when you have been in a long birth
Q: What are common personality traits of successful doulas?
A: There is no “one size fits all,” so bring all your quirks and specialty backgrounds! The reality is, you don’t want to support every family because there is nothing worse than spending 24+ hours through highly emotionally charged situations in the middle of the night when all you want is to be home with your family in your own bed. Instead, you’re with a client that is not a good fit, not open to any of your suggestions, and you’re in a really small hospital room! The same can happen in postpartum. Imagine booking a month’s worth of overnight shifts only to find out your personalities just don’t match.
You are limited on the amount of clients you can take a month. So, when you choose to move forward with the ones that you feel an equal connection with, there is nothing more soulful and fulfilling than walking alongside a family (through all the twists and turns of birth/postpartum) that accepts your support, love, and guidance with open arms.
These are some common personality traits that I see of successful doulas:
- Nurturing, is a caretaker in other areas of their life
- Passionate, is genuinely interested in physiological birth/postpartum process and likes to educate others
- Professional/consistent, follows through on what they have committed to do, is mindful of boundaries when working with other professionals/providers
- Communicates clearly, in writing and verbally works to be concise, thoughtful, and does not make assumptions
- Advocates for body autonomy, evidenced based care, the rights of families
- An active listener; the doula has the tools to hold space for others, does not make it about them
- Conscientious and uses integrity when making difficult decisions or having difficult conversations
Is becoming a doula right for you?
Only you can decide. If you are still interested in becoming a doula, it’s time to take some solid next steps. I recommend really envisioning which space you are attracted to most. Did the career path of birth or postpartum doula resonate most? Once you’ve decided on the very best option (for this moment in time), take the time to research the different certification programs. We’ve listed quite a few! – and/or search for other opportunities in your community.
In addition, we offer a wide range of support services from birth and postpartum doula mentorship to 1:1 person and business consulting. Join our email list and receive all the news and offers we’ve got (both free and paid) and feel free to inquire here, if you still have more questions and would like personalized support based on your reading today.
Hi! I’m Alyssa Leon. I lead Cherry Blossom Doula Services, LLC – an inclusive birth + postpartum doula team in Arizona; and mentor doulas in Arizona and beyond.