Well Rounded Birth Prep

Well Rounded Birth Prep

Search This Blog

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How to become a childbirth educator, doula, or breastfeeding counselor

I get this one a lot: "I'm fascinated with pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding. How do I get started if I want to become a childbirth educator/doula/breastfeeding counselor?" There are a lot of answers to that question. I'll try to touch upon a few options.

While you don't have to become certified to become a childbirth educator, doula, or breastfeeding counselor, the certification process will help you obtain breadth and depth of knowledge and experience on the subject, give you credibility, and open doors to opportunities and clients.  For instance, most hospitals and birth centers require accredited certification to be eligible to teach their birth classes. Independent doulas and instructors can be self-taught or find a mentor.

There are various levels of time commitment involved in becoming a birth or breastfeeding assistant. Take into consideration your current life stage. Do you have reliable childcare? Do you have someone who could watch your children at any hour if you are called to a birth? If not, you may still be able to become a childbirth educator, lactation specialist, or postpartum doula until a later stage of life. If your goal is to become certified but you can't afford the process, you could see what the reading requirements are for the certification organization that you will be joining, and start reading now. You can borrow the books through inter-library loan; from another doula, childbirth educator, or doula in your area; or partner with another birth professional who is working toward certification and split the cost of a lending library.

Some organizations offer multiple certifications, which can be helpful if you only want to pay annual dues to one organization (for instance, doula certification and childbirth educator certification).

Here are just a few of the organizations that offer education and certification for becoming a childbirth educator, doula, lactation specialist, postpartum doula, prenatal exercise consultant, or other.

In alphabetical order:

Birthing From Within. "mentor" (childbirth educator) and doula certification

Birthworks International. childbirth educator and doula certification

The Bradley Method of Husband-Coached Natural Childbirth. childbirth educator certification

Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA). labor doula, postpartum doula, antepartum doula, childbirth educator, lactation educator, and teen educator certification. 

Doulas of North America (DONA). birth doula and postpartum doula certification

International Birth and Wellness Project. childbirth educator certification, doula certification, and midwifery training.

International Childbirth Educator Association (ICEA). childbirth educator, prenatal fitness educator, birth doula, and postpartum doula certification.

Lamaze International  childbirth educator certification.

Prepared Childbirth Educators, Inc offers certification for nurses only. Breastfeeding counselor, childbirth educator, infant massage instructor, labor doula, and prenatal/postnatal fitness instructor certification.  

If you're interested in being a breastfeeding counselor in some capacity, perhaps becoming a La Leche League leader would be a fit for you as an intermediary step or to complement your other roles. LLL leaders must have at least 9 months personal experience breastfeeding, must agree with LLL's philosophy, and complete accreditation requirements such as reading requirements, essays, interviews, and more. It's a volunteer position, but it's very rewarding.

Factors to consider when looking at organizations for certification:
  • Birth philosophy. Is it a fit for your beliefs? When you read their mission statement, do you feel as though you could identify with that organization?
  • Cost. Not just for certification for the program, but for initial joining fee, annual dues, cost of any workshops required for certification, and materials (books, etc., some of which you may be able to get from the library or used from amazon.com or half.com).
  • Location of training workshops. Proximity to your house, timing of workshops. Availability of a mentor to assist with your certification process and answer any questions along the way.
  • Continuing education requirements.
  • Community needs in your area. If there are already 3 Bradley certified instructors in your area, you could interview them to see whether they think the market demands could support a fourth Bradley certified instructor, or whether you might find more clients if you certified with a different organization.
  • Will you be independent (thus have control over the subjects you teach and discuss with clients) or will you look to work for an institution (and possibly be limited to teaching policies and routines of the institution, while being restricted from speaking on alternatives)? 
  • Do you have a location in mind for teaching? Possibilities include your home, your clients' homes, churches, senior centers, YMCAs, Pilates/yoga/dance studios, hospitals, birth centers, and more.
Here's how I selected ICEA (International Childbirth Education Association) to pursue certification as a childbirth educator. After having 4 pregnancies (3 homebirths and a loss at 15 weeks) with my midwife, we've spent so much time together that she's more than just a midwife: she's my friend. I call her when I have questions about something I read about birth or about cause-and-effect of birth problems I hear about. In March 2010, I told her that I really do want to become a real-live childbirth educator "some day when I have time." I knew that my scope and effectiveness in helping families would be greatly expanded if I were certified. My midwife suggested that ICEA could be a good fit for me and suggested I check out their website.

I immediately loved their motto: "Freedom of choice based upon knowledge of alternatives." That's really a fit for me. I can respect EDUCATED, INFORMED decisions even if they're not the decisions I personally would make. I want to help my clients make informed decisions from a position of knowing their options, no matter where their birth takes them.

Here's the path I'm taking to get ICEA certified:


Here's Birth Source owner Connie Livingston's article on becoming a childbirth educator:

Another great option is to find a local birth meetup group to learn more and network. To find one near you, if a Google search isn't coming up with an answer, ask around: moms' groups, La Leche League, babywearing moms, midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, homeschoolers, naturopaths, health food stores and/or chiropractors may know of a group. My midwife, Angy Nixon, CNM, organizes birth meetups in Scott Depot/Charleston and in Huntington, WV, that each meet once monthly. I blogged about the birth meetups here. At these birth meetups, anyone who is interested in learning more about pregnancy and birth is welcome to attend, no matter where or how (or even whether) they have given birth or plan to give birth. It's about learning what birth options are available and connecting with birth professionals and other moms (not about birth location).

If you can find a local contact who is an experienced childbirth educator, doula, or midwife who would be willing to mentor you and help you along your path, that can be very helpful. She may even have an established lending library and could possibly allow you to borrow books that you need for your certification.

Read, read, read! Read as many birth books as you can from the required reading lists from the organizations I posted above. I have a blog in progress with lists of birth and breastfeeding book suggestions. Read birth stories online.

Subscribe to free e-newsletters of professional birth and breastfeeding organizations. Follow them on Twitter and friend or "like" their pages on Facebook. If you would like a suggested starter list, you can see my favorite pages on Facebook on the lower left of the profile and who I follow on Twitter.

Most (all?) childbirth educator or doula certification organizations require you to attend a minimum number of births. Your role at the birth will be determined by what you are working toward (childbirth educator might be required merely to attend and witness a labor and birth, while a doula would have more requirements: physical and emotional labor support, working with staff, etc.) as well as what role the birthing couple want you to fulfill. Although you will have to register with a certification organization before any births you attend will count toward your certification requirements, the more births you can attend, the more you will learn. If you have any pregnant friends or family members who might let you attend their births, it would be a great opportunity if they'd allow you to attend. Read Penny Simkin's The Birth Partner  and other birth books for inspiration and what to expect, then discuss your role at the birth with the mother and her partner. Will you be there just to observe quietly, to photograph or videotape, to help mom's partner support her in the birth, to bring a goodie bag of massage tools? Just be sure that the couple understands that you are there to learn and to support, and that they are aware of your level of experience and education.

This isn't an exhaustive list of how to become a birth or breastfeeding professional, but it's a good start. I'm sure I'll add to the list. Best wishes on your journey to serve families in their childbearing year!

Those of you who are childbirth educators, doulas, midwives, or breastfeeding counselors of various sorts, how did you start your journey into your career? Did you mentor or certify (or both)?


  1. Thanks for sharing Sarah. I try to share what I know now, and want to learn more. I read anything I can get my hands on and would love to become a doula one day and help women. thanks for being such an inspiration

  2. Wonderful info Sarah. Thanks!! I'm so happy you freely share your passion for natural birth and I'm so glad to have met you. :)

  3. I life in Eastern Kentucky and I would love to become a certified Childbirth Educator. The only problem is that we have NOTHING in our area when it comes to support for mothers so I have no way of attending the classes and seminars necessary to obtain a certification. My friend has gone through all of the steps to become a doula, childbirth educator, and lactation consultant however she is unable to obtain her certification for the same reasons. Do you have any suggestions that may help us?


Thank you for taking time to visit my blog. I appreciate your comments.