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How to Become a Doula

How to Become a Doula

Want to turn your passion for birth and babies into a career as a doula? Learn about doula training and certification, how much doulas make, how to set up your business, and more.


Providing non-medical support to soon-to-be parents throughout pregnancy and labor and empowering them to have a positive birth experience can be deeply satisfying. Then there’s the magic of witnessing a new life coming into the world. Also known as birth companions or birth partners, doulas provide information, and physical and emotional comfort during labor and childbirth. (Postpartum doulas, by contrast, focus on providing emotional support, breastfeeding advice and hands-on help after birth.)And if a career as a doula is your calling, those rewards will more than make up for the long hours, unpredictable on-call schedule, and exposure to messy body fluids. 

But birth work is only one part of being a doula. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, and earn a decent income, you need to start out on solid footing. So in this article, we’re going to walk you through what it takes to begin building a doula business. 

4 Doula Training Options

Technically, you don’t need any training to call yourself a doula, because the birth coach industry isn’t regulated. However, completing a recognized training and certification program is  proof you’ve met a specific set of standards. This can be helpful if you hope to join a team practice, community-based program, or birth center. As well, many insurance companies that cover a portion of a doula’s fee will only do so for if the care provider is certified. Similarly, most states that provide Medicaid coverage of doula services require doulas be trained or certified by an approved organization. 

How long it takes to become a doula, and how much doula training costs depends to some extent on the organization you choose for your education and certification. Generally, from start to finish, the education and certification process take between one and two years. Here are just four of the possible options. (Please note: the estimated costs below don’t include books.)

DONA International

The first step to becoming certified is attending one of the organization’s approved birth doula workshops (minimum 16 hours of instruction time), which is valid for four years. After purchasing a birth certification packet, you have two years to complete the remaining requirements to become a certified doula, which include: 

  • Observing an entire series of childbirth education classes
  • Attending a class about breastfeeding and lactation
  • Completing required readings
  • Viewing a business webinar
  • Writing an essay
  • Compiling an extensive list of local resources
  • Providing support for three clients (at least 15 consecutive hours total)
  • Obtaining written references

Total cost: From roughly $750 to $1,200 USD.  

ICEA (International Childbirth Education Association)

This organization requires that you enrol in the program, attend a self-paced or teacher-led workshop (usually two to three days long). You can choose an online workshop, which gives you 260 days of access. If you need longer, you can purchase an extension. Other certification requirements include:

  • Providing proof of three labor support experiences of at least six hours apiece
  • Observing one childbirth education series
  • Achieving a minimum grade of 85 percent on the certification exam

Total cost: Approximately $1,100 to $1,700 USD.

CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association)

Following completion of an 18-hour labor doula training class completing required reading, candidates have two years to complete the remaining certification requirements. 

These include:

  • Enrolment in the labor doula traditional training course
  • Attending a minimum of three labors/births as a doula
  • Obtaining nine evaluations (from parents and healthcare provider
  • Achieving a grade of at least 85 percent on two exams: multiple-choice and essay

Total Cost: $925 USD and up.

toLabor (The Organization of Labor Assistants for Options and Resources—formerly ALACE)

To obtain certification, you need to attend a three-day birth doula training workshop, and complete the remaining requirements within five years. These include:

  • Completing a list of required readings
  • Observing or auditing a series of childbirth preparation classes
  • Observing or auditing a breastfeeding education class
  • Writing summaries of six births you’ve attended
  • Obtaining written evaluations from three clients (either the birthing individual or their partner)
  • Successful completion of a written exam

Total cost: roughly $725 USD.

How Much Do Doulas Make?

That’s a tricky question to answer. Why? Because what you can earn as a birth doula hinges on a number of factors, including the size of the city you live in, how many years of experience you have, whether you’re a one-person shop or part of a larger company, and whether you want to practice part- or full-time.

That said, according to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a birth doula is about $57,500 in Canada and  $56,522 in the US. Indeed lists the national average salary for a birth doula in the UK as £24,450, and $79,432 in Australia.

While some birth doulas charge by the hour, many charge a fee that covers a package of services, such as two prenatal visits, plus attendance at your labor and birth, one or two postpartum visits, and unlimited phone, text, and e-mail support. According to this New York Times story, depending on the individual and her level of experience, doulas charge anywhere from $500 to $3,500 or more. Generally, doulas in larger cities, where the cost of living is relatively high, charge more than those who work in smaller communities. 

How to Set Up Your Own Doula Business

But wait — you’re not ready to start looking for clients yet. First, you need to give some thought to the nuts and bolts of actually setting up your own business. 

At the top of this list: deciding on a business structure. The main options are operating as a sole proprietor under your own name, or setting up what’s known as a limited liability company. You can read more about the pros and cons of each approach here.

It’s also a good idea to open a bank account—or two, actually—specifically for your doula business. Most experts recommend creating one account for income and routine expenses, and another for where you can put aside a percentage of your earnings for taxes. 

When you become self-employed, taxes and accounting become more complicated, too. But don’t panic. We’ve got you covered with this starter’s guide we created with the help of a chartered accountant. It will give you tips on how taxes can affect your business. It even includes a template for a basic spreadsheet—so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Then there’s the question of how potential clients are going to find and contact you. You’ll also need a way to manage the day-to-day tasks of keeping a business running smoothly. From scheduling appointments, keeping organized records of client interactions, and taking payments—there are a lot of balls to keep in the air. And the more streamlined a system you put in place to handle these nitty gritty details, the more of your time and attention you can spend doing the work you love. 

That’s where Practice comes in. Our platform was developed for small business owners just like you. It allows you to send messages and documents, schedule meetings, receive payments, securely store client data—and more. Start your free trial today.

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