Here's How To Become A Doula, According To An *Actual* Doula

There are many variations of what your “birthing team” can look like. It could be just you and your partner at home, or it could be a doctor, nurse, and spouse in the hospital. Some people even want their entire families in the room, and many women decide they want to use a doula, either in the hospital or at home, which can be a super helpful person to have on your team. Does being a doula interest you, because you loved yours so much? You may be wondering how to become a doula, especially if the wonders of childbirth and helping others interests you.

In order to become a doula, you don’t necessarily have to become certified, but it’s highly recommended that you do, according to doula Monique Cowan. Cowan says to Romper in an email interview that there are many organizations where you can get training and certifications in-person and online, including the International Center for Traditional Childbirth, Ancient Song Doulas, Common Sense Childbirth, and Ubuntu Wellness Academy, all of which Cowan recommends. “The trainings usually go for a few days to a week and then there are books to read, papers to write, and families to serve before one is able to receive certification. The entire process can take anywhere from six months to a year. Organizations usually give students up to two years from their training to complete the tasks for certification,” she says.

What are some reasons to become a doula? Cowan says she made the decision after giving birth to her daughter almost seven years ago. She was terrified of the thought of childbirth in general, and was scared of an epidural and catheter, so she looked up “painless childbirth” online. This is where she discovered doulas. “I decided this is what I needed because, by default of being afraid of needles and other interventions, I was having a non-medicated vaginal birth. The doula I hired was very sweet, understanding, and even-tempered,” she says.

Her doula helped her to release her fear surrounding childbirth, helped her with family drama, her own crying spells, and everything else emotionally that came with childbirth. “When it was all said and done, I realized that all the ways she supported me were the ways I wanted to support women and families for the rest of my life. I have since learned that birth work is in my blood. My maternal great-grandmother was what you would call a granny midwife in her rural town in Texas,” Cowan says.

There are other types of birth “helper" positions you could become certified in if a doula isn’t your cup of tea, including birthing coaches, and midwives. As far as the differences between a “birthing coach” and a doula, Cowan says they’re basically the same thing, however, a doula can do so much more. “A birth coach is a particular method and focuses more on actually practicing for your birth and focuses on preparing for a certain type of birth and birth experience. A doula helps to do this, too, but she supports the birthing mother, no matter how she chooses to give birth, and is focused on providing information and support so that the mother can make informed choices and decisions,” she explains.

The difference between a midwife and a doula, Cowan explains, is “a midwife is a trained medical professional who is able to examine, diagnose, and prescribe treatment. Her job is close to what an OB-GYN would do, aside from performing any surgical procedures. A midwife handles all of mama's prenatal care, she catches the baby, and also examines mama after labor.” Whereas a doula provides not only education, but emotional and physical support to the mother. She’s the birthing mom’s advocate and is not a medical professional in any way, according to Cowan. As such, she doesn’t perform any examinations or prescribe treatment or medication. So whichever career path you choose, remember, having both a doula and a midwife “is like having a dynamic duo for the laboring mama,” Cowan says. So you can't go wrong.

And in Cowan’s opinion, the difference between having only a doctor for your birth and having both a doctor and a doula is a big one. “A doctor is going to be concerned, mainly, with what's going on from your belly on down. She will be busy with the very consuming work of making sure your and your baby's vitals are good during labor and doing the work of catching the baby using any medical tools, if necessary. A doula's job is to be sure mama is OK, overall. Is she exhausted? Is she tense? Is she breathing optimally? Are her wishes, concerns, fears, and questions being heard, acknowledged, respected, and answered? Does she need to change labor positions?”

Cowan adds that your doula also "works with doctors and hospital staff to be sure that mama has the best outcome possible during labor and birth." They can help assuage fears, too, and actually help labor go easier and faster because they're providing emotional and physical support, as well as education and advocacy for the birthing family, according to Cowan.

If you’re looking to be a huge support system for women and families during one of the most precious moments of their lives, and are empathetic, compassionate, and quick on your feet, you may want to consider becoming a doula. Check out your local organizations near you at DONA International.

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.