Updated: Jun 30
There's a question I'm frequently asked: why is my doula preparation course so short? Can a four-day workshop plus a pre- and post-course module prepare someone who has no other formal training to become a doula?
I always answer yes.
I don’t say that lightly, by the way. I have nearly two decades experience facilitating doula courses and set up my own training company in 2012. This year alone, I'm running 12 courses up and down the country and I am always reviewing, developing and improving the content to ensure it delivers focused, evidence-based preparation in order for my students to become effective doulas. I follow the Doula UK curriculum and have found that, without exception, the people who apply themselves during the workshop and complete the post course module in good time, are ready to start doulaing straightaway.
It’s not just me who says so. The Cochrane Review on continuous support for women during labour and birth came to the following conclusion: “Continuous support from a person who is present solely to provide support, is not a member of the woman's own network, is experienced in providing labour support, and has at least a modest amount of training (such as a doula), appears beneficial.”
Notice the words used are “modest amount of training” not in-depth, extensive or academic training, but modest. This is something that I think some doula courses, and indeed some doulas, are forgetting.
Over the years, I’ve seen very academic courses pop up, that go on for a number of months, with hours and hours of theoretical study into the various aspects of birth. While I’m sure the content is incredibly interesting, it worries me that they are losing the very essence of the doula and what the role of a doula actually is.
The reason why doulas have such a positive impact on birth is because they can focus solely on providing continuous emotional and practical support to the birthing woman without the emotional attachment of a husband or partner, or the legal and medical responsibilities of a trained caregiver, such as a midwife. For the record, I love midwives and I admire and respect the work that they do – we couldn't do our jobs without them. However, while they are run off their feet, juggling multiple women and dealing with the endless bureaucracy that comes with the job in the form of note taking, they're simply not able to offer the same kind of support we can.
Doulas can stay in the present moment with their client, without getting pulled into fears about what a reading of the CTG machine might mean or concerns about something that has been written in the woman’s maternity record notes. Our ‘modest amount of training’ means we have fewer preconceptions, fears and worries and can instead simply exist as a calming, constant presence by the woman’s side, helping her to feel nurtured and looked after.
If a woman feels safe and protected during her labour, the physiological process of childbirth will run more smoothly than if she feels afraid. This is because fear wakes up the thinking brain, which can produce adrenaline and block the hormones conducive to birth, such as oxytocin and endorphins.
It's similar to when a child is scared and can’t go to sleep at night. Often, all it takes is for a parent to lie down next to them and maybe stroke their hair, to disengage their thinking brain and promote the physiological process of sleep. The parent protects the safety of the space, encouraging the child to let go and drift off. Falling asleep is a physiological process which happens when the right hormones are produced - just like childbirth! This is exactly what a doula does: we protect the safety of the space, to help a woman let go and birth her baby. This is our primary role.
So, I worry. I worry about doula training becoming too academic and even clinical. I can understand the temptation of wanting to know more, collecting training certificates and qualifications, to make doulas feel like they have more to offer their clients. I would argue that these are merely expensive pieces of paper to hide behind and could end up taking us away from the simplicity of our role. Doulas might start thinking of themselves as “experts”, advising women and couples rather than providing information so that our clients can make their own choices.
I worry that doulas will forget our true essence – being there, listening, understanding, enabling and caring!
We often hear doulas described as ‘empowering women’ but can someone truly give power to someone else? I believe the job we do as doulas is to provide women with the information and tools they need to claim their own power. We achieve this by walking alongside them. Doulas are not above or below anyone, we meet our clients where they are and try to support them in getting where they want to be.
What makes us special is that we don’t need any academic training; we just need to be who we are. Our role has nothing to do with diplomas or hours spent training – it is purely down to a willingness and passion to offer compassionate, non-judgemental and caring support and to be there, fully present, when our clients need us the most.