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What is a doula?

Doulas are non clinical support people who have historically worked with people during pregnancy to prepare for birth, during childbirth and in the immediate postpartum period. Formal doula training has only existed since 1992 and the word doula was coined for this role as an information provider, emotional and physical support companion for birth in the 1980's. Since then the role of the doula has expanded as people who work in this field recognize more opportunities to fill needs in their communities and doulas have more recently started offering fertility support, extended postpartum support, pregnancy loss and abortion support and more.

While the term doula and the formal training path to becoming a modern doula are not old, the role of the lay support person is as old as the human species. We have always sought out companionship for childbirth from other experienced and confident birth "experts". The original doulas were often neighbours or other family members who had given birth many times or attended many births. As birth became more medicalized traditional birth support people were replaced by medical doctors in most places. The companion or doula has made a huge comeback and we as a culture have recognized and even studied the benefits that a familiar non-clinical support person has on birth outcomes.

Doulas attend births at home or hospital and work closely with nurses, doctors and midwives although rarely do doulas work for the hospitals or medical care providers and are hired directly by the people they support which adds to their benefit. Doulas do not replace medical care providers and are generally hired as an additional member of their support team.

How to become a doula?

It has been amazing to witness the expansion of doula training opportunities over the past two decades of working and teaching in this field. Doulas Of North America or DONA was the original doula training organization and there was a time where nearly every doula received their formal training through either DONA or CAPPA. Today there are more doula training organizations than I can count. The spectrum of approach and perspectives means that there really is a doula school for every person. Training can be completed through correspondence, in online classrooms or in person or a combination of the three. Many doulas even opt not to complete training and because doula work is an unregulated field, this is also an option.

Potential students can look for local training options or travel to find their favourite trainers. Continuing education options are endless with seminars, workshops and add on services in all different areas of interest.

How to choose your doula training?

Consider your particular learning style. Do you do very well independently? Or do you benefit most from a lot of interaction and support? Do you want to be a part of a large school with a long history and lots of alumni? Or would you prefer to be a part of a small school with more intimate connections? Which schools match your personality and interests? There are holistic doula schools, doula schools intended specifically for black doulas, doula trainings that include topics like herbs or doula schools that are very mainstream or focussed on business. Which doula schools are in line with your faith or spiritual beliefs? Or do you want to choose a school that doesn't include a spiritual perspective at all?

One of the most important factors when choosing a doula school might be your doula trainer. Who will be working with you while you learn, do you connect with them, do they inspire you and how much interaction with them will you have?

Does your school of choice require continuing education or charge annual membership fees to stay connected with other alumni? What other benefits does each school offer their students? What do other people who are currently enrolled in training with a school loving or not loving about their experience? Some schools offer different aspects of doula work in separate courses eg. fertility doula training, birth doula training, loss doula training and postpartum doula training and other schools may combine some or all of these into one program.

Feeling overwhelmed?

The more options there are, the more daunting the task of researching and choosing a doula school can be. I think one way to approach this first step is to think about your future work. What kind of doula do you want to be? How do you want your community to see you? How do you want to be of service to your clients? Jot down any words that come to mind when you consider this so you can get clear on the kind of doula that you want to be.

Ask a few doula trainers if they can make some time to chat with you and ask them some questions about what inspired their approach to doula training and what they love most about the way they train doulas. Ask them how many of their students complete their training and what the biggest challenges are for program completion and doula success after training.

What inspired the By the Moon doula training program?

  1. We are holistic. As a reflexologist and Reiki practitioner I am programmed to see everything in a holistic way. Every symptom and every situation has a root cause. There's a body, mind and spirit layer to everything whether it be nausea, a breech baby or a stall in labour. This perspective as a healing practitioner has always influenced my work as a doula and so it is also woven into By the Moon doula training.

  2. We have structure. I used to be a lead doula trainer for a more conventional doula training program. I loved my time there and am grateful for the connections I still have with students from that time and everything I learned through that experience. When I decided to write and build a doula training program that was more authentic to my work as a doula I wanted to provide students with a lot of structure. One thing that was obvious in my previous experience was that most people really struggle with independent learning and sadly, many don't finish their training. I designed a new doula training program that doesn't just leave students with a list of assignments and readings but everyone shares a schedule that includes regular live online seminars, lots of group interaction, a real relationship with the trainer and extra support as needed to help people who have different learning styles or challenges, life circumstances and other obstacles. My goal is the same as your goal - your successful completion and confidence in your knowledge and skills.

  3. Small school equals real relationships and connection. When I am in a classroom with a group of students I challenge myself every single class to identify where each student is from. It's my own little game - but it matters to me. When I see a name on a class list, I can almost certainly tell you some details about each person at our school. Students will often share their current level of wellness, if they are having challenges at home, where they're at with employment or self employment and what their aspirations are. Knowing students means I can really support them with their unique needs.

These are just a few of the values that I made priorities in By the Moon doula training. What matters most to you in your learning experience? I'd love to hear about what you loved or didn't love about your learning experience or what qualities you're looking for when you're making an informed choice about your investment in training.


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