How to become a doula and get certified

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Work as a doula can be rewarding work with a high income and strong career growth, especially since the World Health Organization in 2016 recommended that every birth globally be attended by a doula.

What is a doula?

A doula is someone who provides emotional and physical comfort and support to parents during—and after—pregnancy and childbirth. 

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that women who have continuous support during labor are more likely to be happy with their overall birth experience. Women who receive doula care also have lower rates of C-sections and preterm births, according to a study by Mayo Clinic and University of Minnesota. That same study found that families could save close to $1,000 on medical care when using a doula. 

In addition to helping moms have less-stressful labors and save money, as a doula, you get to run your own business. That means you have control over how much you work. 

Interested in becoming a doula? Here’s everything you need to know before getting started. 

Labor and birth doula training

Birth doulas are non-clinical professionals. Unlike obstetricians and midwives, you don’t need a medical degree or state license to practice. In fact, there is currently little oversight over the profession in the United States—because of that, there aren’t any universally-accepted credentials required to become a doula. 

Currently, Oregon, Minnesota, and Indiana have passed laws that allow  allowing doula services to be reimbursed by Medicaid and establis doula training and certification requirements. In Oregon, for example, you must complete an approved training program to become a state-certified doula. However, you can still operate as a doula even if you’re not state-certified. 

As outlined by the National Health Law Program, more than 20 states, including Massachusetts, New York, Texas, California, Illinois, and Virginia, have introduced bills in 2021 to reimburse doula services through Medicaid. If passed, these bills would also help to establish training and certification requirements in those states. 

Per the Maternal Health Task Force out of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there are more than 80 organizations and programs in the U.S. that train and certify doulas. Each organization has its own curriculum and guidelines for what makes a certified doula. 

These certifications are not recognized by  state or federal governments, but there are benefits to getting certified by one of these organizations. For starters, you’ll receive hands-on training during the process, which can help you feel prepared and confident as you launch your own doula business. 

Doula certification can also make you more desirable to prospective clients, as it shows you have a solid educational foundation and understanding of the job. You may even earn 10%-20% more money if you are certified by one of these organizations. 

If you decide to sign up for certification through an organization, here’s what you need to know.  

How to become a birth doula 

The first step to becoming a certified doula is determining which program is right for you. There are in-person programs, online programs, and hybrid programs that combine the two. 

It’s important to note, though, that even if you sign up for an online program, you’ll still have to attend a few births in-person to satisfy the certification requirements____. 

Some of the most widely-recognized organizations offering doula training and certification include Doulas of North America International (DONA), Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA), Childbirth International, and the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA).

The time it takes to complete certification varies. Usually, you’ll spend 10 to 48 hours attending a course or workshop in-person or online. On top of that, you’ll have to satisfy other certification requirements including reading books, writing papers, and taking quizzes. And, you’ll have to attend three births for a minimum of 15 hours total. 

Most organizations say doulas are able to complete their certification in three to six months. Many organizations give you up to a year to finish the program, while others have no time limit for completion. 

During the certification process, you’ll learn all about childbirth and breastfeeding, as well as techniques for supporting and comforting clients during labor. You’ll also learn the basics of starting your own doula business. 

After you attend three births, your clients, and a healthcare provider, may have to submit an evaluation about their experience with you in order for you to fulfill the certification requirements. 

Most certifications are valid for three years. Once that time is up, you must apply for recertification. 

Recertification usually involves obtaining continuing education credits. This can range anywhere from 15-30 hours. Examples of continuing education include attending in-person workshops and reading a book or research articles pertaining to childbirth or parenting and writing a 500-word paper about it. 

You may also be asked to pay a recertification fee as part of this process. The recertification fee varies by organization, but you can generally expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $250. 

DONA online training review

DONA International is one of the leading organizations for doula training, certification, and continuing education. DONA doula certification costs anywhere from $700-$1,100 and involves a mix of in-person and online work.  

To become a certified doula through DONA, you must attend a DONA-approved birth doula workshop in person. A workshop costs  $400 to $700 and lasts two or three days. Expect to be there for eight hours per day, for a total of 16 to 24 hours. Once you take an in-person workshop, you have four years to complete the rest of your certification. 

You must also become a member of DONA International, which costs $100 per year, and purchase a DONA International Birth Doula Certification Packet. The certification packet costs $45 for DONA members. After filling out the required paperwork in the packet, you must submit it to DONA and pay a $110 certification processing fee. 

There is also additional coursework involved in the DONA doula certification program. You’ll have to take an online or in-person course about the basics of breastfeeding and an in-person course about the basics of childbirth. DONA’s childbirth education training workshop may be 12 or more hours in total. 

You’ll also have to read required texts from DONA’s Birth Doula Required Reading List. Expect to spend around $75 on books, although you may be able to find them at a public library or borrow them from another doula. You’ll be asked to read two research papers published by DONA and eight books from the larger reading list. 

During the DONA doula certification process, you’ll need to provide primary doula support to three clients, for a total of at least 15 hours. You’ll have to provide documentation, which you’ll find in your certification packet, of the experiences. This documentation includes evaluations of your services by both the person who gave birth and a healthcare provider. 

You’ll also have to attend at least one approved doula business webinar (which cost $20 for DONA members and are an hour long), write an essay about the value of providing support during labor, and get a written reference from a perinatal health professional and a client. 

Most of the DONA doula certification program is self-study, so the time it takes to complete will vary based on your schedule and how quickly you’re able to get through the material. 

A DONA International certification is valid for three years. Once the three years is up, you will have to apply for recertification and pay an $80 fee. Recertification requires maintaining continuous DONA membership (which costs $100 per year) and obtaining at least 15 hours of continuing education during the three-year period. 

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Postpartum doula training 

Doulas aren’t just there to help guide moms through labor and delivery. Doulas can help women through postpartum recovery too. Here’s what you need to know about postpartum doula training and certification. 

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What does a postpartum doula do? 

A postpartum doula offers a woman and her family physical and emotional support after she gives birth. 

Postpartum doula services include helping families navigate newborn care, caring for an older child while parents tend to the baby, and preparing healthy meals for families. 

Postpartum doulas can’t provide medical care, but they can share resources and help clients find a healthcare provider if needed. 

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How to become a postpartum doula

You don’t need a degree or state license to become a postpartum doula. That said, there are many organizations that offer postpartum doula certification if you choose to go that route. Becoming a certified postpartum doula can teach you how to set up and run your own business, give prospective clients more confidence to hire you, and allow you to charge more money for your services. 

Postpartum doula certification can be done in person, online, or a mix of both. The format for postpartum doula certification programs is similar to that of labor and delivery: You’ll have to attend an in-person or online workshop, read assigned texts, and have clients submit evaluations of their experiences working with you. 

The in-person or online workshop will take place over two or three full days. Expect to spend at least 16 hours on that portion of the certification. You can also expect to read at least seven books. 

Postpartum doula certification involves learning about lactation, nutrition and exercise during the postpartum period, infant health problems, and changes that a woman may experience physically and mentally during the postpartum period. 

You’ll also get to work on hands-on skills needed to be a successful postpartum doula, including newborn care, caring for multiple babies and babies with special needs, breastfeeding support, and first aid measures. You’ll likely have to work with three families, spending at least 15 hours on in-person support total, to satisfy the certification requirements. 

Some organizations require recertification after three years. Recertification may include 18 to 24 hours of continuing education as well as paying a fee of up to $250, depending on the organization. 

Postpartum Care Foundation online training review

Postpartum Care Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to women seeking specialty postpartum care. The organization offers online postpartum doula training and certification, which costs $333.

To become a certified postpartum doula through the Postpartum Care Foundation, you’ll have to purchase—or borrow—textbooks and other required reading materials (these aren’t included in the cost of the course). Throughout the course, you’ll be assigned specific pages to read and will be tested on the material. There are eight books on the required reading list. 

Lessons in the certification program include an introduction to the postpartum period, postpartum nutrition, belly binding, lactation support, and emotional support. There’s also a lesson on becoming a professional to help you set up your business. There are 11 lessons total. 

You’ll also need to provide postpartum doula support to three clients to receive your certification. You may need to buy supplies to work with your clients (these aren’t included in the price of the certification). Some of the supplies the Postpartum Care Foundation recommends are crates to transport all of your healing tools to a clients’ home, mason jars for teas and broths, and small bowls for oils, herbs, and clay. 

For this certification program, you get to go at your own pace. There’s no time limit to finish the course, but the Postpartum Care Foundation recommends you complete it within a year of starting for best retention of the material. 

Learn more about the Postpartum Care Foundation's certificate program.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a doula

Here, get answers to your most-pressing questions to figure out if this is the right career path for you. 

How much does it cost to become a doula? 

It can cost you $1,000 or more to become a certified doula, depending on the program you choose. Tuition for DONA International’s certification program, for example, ranges from $700-$1,100. Carriage House Birth’s certification program costs $900 for tuition, while International Doula Institute’s certification program costs $790 for tuition. 

How long does it take to become a doula?

Many doula certification programs allow you to go at your own pace, so you can complete your training and certification when you have time. Some doula certification programs give you a full year to complete your work, and others have no time limit on when you have to finish. Most doulas are able to get certified within three to six months of starting the program. 

Expect to spend 16-24 hours taking an in-person or online workshop and at least 15 hours supporting parents during labor to satisfy certification requirements. You’ll also typically have to read at least seven books, complete written assignments, and take quizzes to satisfy certification requirements. 

What are the qualifications to become a doula?  Do you need a degree?

You don’t need a degree or state license to practice as a doula, but many doulas decide to become certified through an organization like DONA International, CAPPA, or ICEA. Certification has many benefits including preparing you for the job, making you more desirable to prospective clients, and earning you 10%-20% more money. 

Ideally, you’ll be passionate about birth, babies, and supporting women and families during and after labor. Those who have experience in related fields, such as daycare workers, nannies, or home health aids, may find the transition to doula work easy. 

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How do I get my first doula client? 

There are a variety of ways to get your first doula client:

  • Set up a website advertising your services. Make sure the website is easy to navigate and optimized for search results so potential clients in your area can find you. 
  • Join local pregnancy and parenting groups on social media to find prospective clients. 
  • Attend Go to community events where potential clients could be in attendance. Have business cards ready to hand out in case you meet someone who’s interested in your services.
  • Network with pediatricians, midwives, obstetricians, breastfeeding consultants and others in the birthing industry who can refer you and your services.  
  • Ask to be a guest speaker at a birth class, or volunteer at a birth class, so you can introduce yourself to expecting parents. 

What are the services a doula can provide?

A doula can provide many non-clinical, non-medical services to moms and families. Birth doulas are able to educate parents about birth options and teach them ways to be more comfortable during labor, like breathing and massage techniques. 

Doulas can also provide hands-on physical support and comfort during labor and delivery and act as an advocate for the mother so she has a positive birth experience. 

After childbirth, doulas can help moms begin breastfeeding and share strategies for taking care of a newborn. Postpartum doulas, who begin their care after the baby is born, can specifically help ensure the mother is adjusting to motherhood and healing from childbirth. 

Do doulas make good money?

How much money you’ll make as a doula depends on where you live, how much you decide to work, and what sort of certification you have. Doulas who are certified by a reputable organization, like DONA International, can charge 10%-20% more than doulas who aren’t. 

According to career site Indeed, Iin large cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, doulas usually charge between $1,600 to -$2,000 per birth. If you’re able to attend four births a month that could earn you up to, you could make up to $8,000 per month—or up to $96,000 per year. 

In mid-size cities, like Cincinatti, Atlanta, and Austin, doulas usually charge $900 to -$1,400 per birth. This can net you up to $5,600 per month if you assist in four births or up to $67,200 per year.

In smaller cities, expect to make anywhere from $600 to -$1,200 per birth. This means you can make up to $4,800 per month for four births or up to $57,600 per year. 

In the case of postpartum doulas, most charge by the hour. Average salaries range from $20 to -$50 per hour, depending on your location and the services you offer. If you work 40 hours a week as a postpartum doula, you could make up to $2,000 a week, which would work out to more than $90,000 annually. 

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Is becoming a doula worth it? 

Becoming a doula can definitely be worth it for many people. The work is certainly meaningful—research shows women who have the support of a doula have more positive birth experiences and pay less for medical expenses, and being part of such a meaningful moment in a family's life can be rewarding for many doulas.

Plus, as a doula, you get to run your own business and have flexibility over how much you work. Depending on your location and credentials, you can earn anywhere from $600 to $2,000 per birth. 

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But while being a doula can be rewarding—and you can make good money doing it—it’s hard work. Because labor is often unpredictable, expect to put in long hours from time to time. 

The bottom line: If you’re someone who thrives at comforting, nurturing, and supporting others—and you don’t mind the occasional long hours—then becoming a doula could be a worthwhile career move. 

What is a doula?

A doula is someone who provides emotional and physical comfort and support to parents during and after pregnancy and childbirth.

How much does it cost to become a doula?

It can cost you $1,000 or more to become a certified doula, depending on the program you choose.

How long does it take to become a doula?

Most doulas are able to get certified within three to six months of starting the program.

What are the qualifications to become a doula?

You don’t need a degree or state license to practice as a doula, but many doulas decide to become certified through an organization like DONA International, CAPPA, or ICEA. Certification has many benefits including preparing you for the job, making you more desirable to prospective clients, and earning you more money.

Do doulas make good money?

Becoming a doula can definitely be worth it for many people. The work is certainly meaningful. Research shows women who have the support of a doula have more positive birth experiences and pay less for medical expenses, and being part of such a meaningful moment in a family’s life can be rewarding for many doulas.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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