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Doula: Definition, Salary & Training

Doulas provide support to expectant mothers before, during and after their child's birth. Preparation for this career often is done through a professional organization, though some colleges and universities also offer training.

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What is a Doula?

Doulas give women physical and emotional support during pregnancy, labor and childbirth and oftentimes during the postpartum period. They also provide women with information about these stages and instruct new parents on topics like newborn care and breastfeeding. Doulas work as part of a health care team that might include physicians, midwives and nurses. They might work at alternative birthing centers or other health care facilities, but the College Foundation of North Carolina (CFNC) notes that most doulas are private contractors. Because of the nature of their work, doulas often must be on call.

Specific duties of a doula might include working with expectant mothers and their partners prior to childbirth to help them develop birth plans, as well as teaching them breathing and other relaxation techniques. During labor and delivery, doulas might give patients massages, suggest position changes and offer general encouragement, in addition to advocating for the mother as she follows her birth plan. After birth, the doula might guide new parents in childcare techniques, like diapering and bathing.

Educational Requirements Completion of a doula training program; most employers require certification
Job Skills Encouraging, verbal communication skills, able to read patients' clues, team player, able to handle stressful situations, Basic Life Support (BLS) certification
Median Salary (2018)* $39,663
Job Outlook (2016-2026)** 5% - 9% (personal care and service workers, all other)

Source: *PayScale.com; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Training for doulas is available from some postsecondary institutions, as well as nonprofit organizations, like the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) and DONA International. Topics of study typically include prenatal care, fetal development, variations and complications of labor, pain management techniques, breastfeeding and newborn care. Prospective doulas also might learn about emotions and pregnancy, cultural sensitivity, communication and listening, professional ethics and standards of practice. Additionally, they might complete a practicum, where they'll attend births under the guidance of a professional.

CAPPA and DONA International are among several organizations that offer voluntary professional certification for doulas. Examples of credentials include Certified Labor Doula (CLD), Certified Postpartum Doula (CPD), Certified Childbirth Educator (CCCE) and Certified Lactation Educator (CLE). Qualifications for these certifications vary, but in general, they involve completing training and meeting experience requirements.

Required Skills

Perhaps the most important skill for a doula is the ability to be encouraging during the labor and delivery process. They must have strong verbal communication skills and be able to read patients' clues so that they know what type of support to provide. Doulas also must be able to work as part of a team, not just with medical professionals but also with the mother and her partner. Additionally, they must be able to handle stress in the event of a medical emergency. Some employers require that doulas have Basic Life Support (BLS) certification or that they earn it within a set period of time after hire.

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have career outlook projections specifically for doulas, but considers this career as a part of 'personal care and service workers, all other,' with average growth of 5% to 9% expected from 2016-2026. PayScale.com reported that doulas earned a median annual salary of $39,663 as of April 2018. However, CFNC noted that doulas sometimes provide their services for free, particularly when they're starting out in the field.

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