Tips for Having a Good Doula Experience

I keep hearing stories of pregnant mamas being dropped by their “doulas” — just weeks from their due dates. Not for non payment or breach of contract either, but because the doula can’t keep to her commitment.

How can you prevent this from happening to you? I want to give some tips because I have worked for 14 yrs to give doulas a good name and be reliable and committed to my job and passion.

First off, let me state that I don’t think all doulas need to be certified or to keep up their certification. I myself kept up my certification for 5 or 6 yrs and then stopped paying the yearly fee to my parent company since it didn’t really seem to serve a purpose for anyone involved. I became involved in ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) instead as a chapter leader so there is plenty of continuing education and ties to a large organization to make sure I would always keep my nose clean. I pay yearly dues to them instead to stay active as a chapter leader and follow “rules” for lack of a better term. I am also a professional member of our local Birth Network.

I DO however feel that doulas should at least go through a training. That could be with one of the large international doula trainings or it could be one that your local birth network puts on or even one taught by other birth workers. Why? Well, they usually involve an investment. An investment of time and money.

Why should you invest your money and hopes and trust in someone who hasn’t invested in themselves?

Check out their training and certification. If they aren’t certified ask them why and make sure it meshes with your comfort zone. Is there any accountability with any organization? Can you post a review to anywhere or are they just floating out there with possible complaints against them that no one knows about? Doula Match (www.doulamatch.net) is a good place to look and see if they have a profile and reviews. Does she have a mentor doula? It’s certainly not required but it’s nice to know when a newer doula has someone they can call for experience.

Ask how long someone has been a doula. Keep in mind that all new doulas have to start somewhere! The sign of a good doula is not how long she has practiced or how many births she has been to — not that alone anyway.  But statistically speaking, Doula Match has had some interesting insights into the doulas who have stuck with it for over 4 years. They are hired more often (thus more experience), have attended more births, charge marginally more (it’s a career to them), have current or previous certification (a commitment and investment to their clients and themselves), and have many more glowing reviews (satisfied customers). They are also more likely to be hooked into your local birth scene and be able to help you ease into finding your birthing and parenting niche. It takes the average new doula 2 years to complete her certification. There is something to be said for the doula who completes a training and a certification.

Do they use a contract? What are the terms of the contract if either of you decide the partnership isn’t working out? For that matter, I will bring up a touchy subject: How much do they charge? Is it enough for them to have a real investment and commitment in their clients? If they are only charging enough for a hobby BE AWARE you may only be a hobby. Newer doulas in training tend to charge less due to less experience but if they have been through a training they are bringing valuable skills and information to you. Of course many new and experienced doulas will offer a sliding scale or pro bono work on occasion. Money is a touchy subject in a profession that is about support but a necessary conversation.

Who do they work with? Where do they attend births and why? Are they saying they won’t work with certain providers or hospitals? There could be a valid reason but there could also be some of their personal feelings getting in the way. In my doula SOP (scope of practice) I signed and agreed that I would not in any way undermine my client’s confidence in my provider. This doesn’t mean that if a client of mine is asking for suggestions or recommendations that I wouldn’t steer them to a provider that meshes with their birth desires. Being a doula means you support a woman, a family, in their desires and choices. Your choice of provider would likely not be my choice of provider. That does not mean I have a right or even an option to badmouth your provider. Your birth is YOUR birth. Ask your doula for suggestions but if she doesn’t support your decision it’s time to interview a different doula.

As doulas become more popular there will be some that try it out and realize it doesn’t work for them and others who have a real dedication and commitment. You may be lucky enough to get a doula who for whatever reason only practices for a year or two but is an excellent doula. Not all doulas have to be career doulas. We are only human. We experience death and illness and sick kids and different life circumstances. Ultimately, go with your gut. It’s what becoming a mother is all about.

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