Do doulas need to be certified?

is doula certification necessary

Up until COVID, my answer was always “no.”

Do doulas need to be certified? How important is it? I have been doing doula work since 1983, though we simply called it “labor support” at that time. The word “doula” came into use in the early 1990s and has grown in popularity ever since. Over the next two decades, certification was seen as a way of validating and professionalizing the new (old) role of the doula.

Doulas are a new/old profession because all through time and in all cultures, there have always been those special people who recognize it is their place to be present at childbirth and to nurture the new mother as she recovers and adjusts to life with her newborn baby. In modern times, we began to acknowledge the economic and societal benefits to the role as well.

Over time, research on birth doulas has firmly established their value in the maternal-infant care continuum and helped to increase professionalization for doulas. More quantitative research is needed to comparably argue the case for postpartum doulas, but intuition and qualitative studies indicate that postpartum doulas are equally beneficial for families. Let me propose that the following health indicators could be measured to establish the benefits of postpartum doula support (in case there are any researchers out there looking for important things to measure):

  • Reduction in the number of ER/return-to-hospital visits postpartum due to hemorrhage and/or infection;
  • Early detection and intervention for Postpartum Mood Disorders, reducing the depth and duration of suffering (including improved Infant Mental Health indicators to be defined and measured); and
  • Increased duration and exclusivity rates of breastfeeding.

The question is do doulas need to be certified to manifest these established benefits?

Doula certification has historically been optional, as we are a self-regulating profession. Certification is awarded by the individual doula training organizations. There is no such thing as a national or international doula certification. This is merely a marketing claim, designed to give one organization a leg up on another. Over time, the training organizations used certification-related fees to create a “passive income stream.” Once the student invests in training, additional fees are mandated to purchase certification packets, certification applications, annual memberships, required continuing education, and re-certification periodically. It’s a never-ending income stream for the organization, all in the name of Professionalization. 

It’s also a drain on the doula’s finances and presents obstacles to certification for lower-income community doulas. Up till COVID, we could simply choose to sidestep certification and all the extra fees and hoops designed to legitimize our support services (and, believing in the value they bring to families, MANY doulas have made this choice). I have long encouraged doulas to focus on becoming knowledgeable and resourceful and doing their very best for each family served. The profession has a way of weeding out folks who are not a good fit for the job. 

Today, the answer to the question “do doulas need to be certified?” is that many hospitals are requiring that birth doulas show evidence of certification to gain admittance. So this is new territory for doulas. Like other COVID-inspired restrictions, it is impossible to know how long these policies will remain in place.

In response, Lifespan Doulas has created a new streamlined lifetime certification for doulas.

If you train with us, doula certification is included in your training fee (no expiration, ongoing fees, or hoops). Simply complete training requirements and pass an online exam. If you are exam-averse, don’t worry! This is an open-book exam and can be taken as many times as needed to pass. If you trained with another organization and abandoned the onerous and expensive certification offered, we have also created a pathway for you! Learn more about the Lifespan Doulas doula certification.

Patty Brennan

Patty is the owner and visionary force behind Lifespan Doulas. For 40 years, she has been a doula, midwife, educator, author, nonprofit executive, and entrepreneur. Patty has personally trained over 2,000 people to become doulas. She is the author of The Doula Business Guide: How to Succeed as a Birth, Postpartum or End-of-Life Doula, 3rd Edition.