Becoming a Birth Doula

One woman's story about the doula journey

Helping women to give birth without fear is just one of many things that is part of being a doula. It’s also one of the reasons Cara Bjornson was intrigued. When the mother of two from Duncan, BC, had just completed her doula training, we chatted with her to learn more about what it takes to become a doula. 

When did the fascination with birth start?

“I love all things birth,” she said. “It has always been the thing that interests me the most, the thing I love to talk about most and to learn about most. Everything about birth excites me, from pregnancy to postpartum and everything in between.”

Feeling her family was complete after the birth of her second son, Bjornson searched out something that would allow her to be a part of the pregnancy and birth community. And after much admiration of her community’s local birth photographers, and having a birth photographer at her last birth, she decided to give birth photography a go and totally fell in love.

“I've always enjoyed taking photos and discovered that telling the story of a child's journey earthside was completely amazing," she said. 

As much as she loves telling birth stories through photography, she wanted to play a more active role in the support of women in labour.

What does the training entail?

She enrolled in the DONA Doula Training at Mothering Touch which is offered twice a year in Victoria, B.C.There are many doula training opportunities offered through different companies all year long. Check your local area to find one near you if interested.

She spent four days with sixteen other women learning the course taught by Eva Bild, who has been working as a doula for over 20 years and has been training doulas since 2005.

The course covered a number of things including:

  • anatomy and physiology of childbirth
  • physical and emotional process and stages of labour
  • comfort measures for labouring mothers 
  • postpartum depression/anxiety and how to best support new moms 
  • caring for your newborn
  • breastfeeding (which is one of the aspects of being a doula she feels very passionate about)

“The doula training taught me what a huge difference the role can make," she said. "It's not just the things that happen during labour and birth, such as unplanned interventions or deviations from one's birth plan, but the way women are treated during the process.”

Now that Bjornson has completed her training, she can choose to work towards certification. It is not necessary to become certified to work as a doula, as the role is currently unregulated in Canada. However certification adds to the credibility and value of the practice. Note that only certain companies will offer certification. If certification is of interest, inquire into the training company if they have this option. 

“My journey into the world of being a birth worker is only just beginning and I am so excited for what is yet to come,” Bjornson said. “I would love to add becoming a childbirth educator and lactation consultant to my tool belt, and maybe even work towards being midwife one day.”

What exactly does a doula do?

Doulas offer an amazing amount of support to families, but people are often not familiar with what exactly they do. One important distinction is that doulas are a non-medical support role. All medical care for both mother and baby will be provided by the mother's chosen primary care provider (either an OB or midwife). A doula is a personal choice for the mother (and birth partner if present) who offers emotional and physical support leading up to, during, and after the birth. Families can also choose to hire a post-partum doula strictly for the post-partum phase and not including birth services, to help with the transition into becoming a family. 

Research on doula care has shown tremendous benefit for both mother and baby, including:

  • Increased likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth 
  • Shorter labour times with less complications/interventions 
  • Decreased likelihood for the need or request of pain medications and epidural 
  • Less likely to require forceps or vacuum assisted delivery 
  • Decrease in risk for c-section 
  • Reduced use and need for pitocin 
  • Reduced negative feelings about the birth experience 
  • Less likely for babies to have lower Apgar scores at birth 

Kaya Edwards, a birth and postpartum doula and representative of Mid-Island Doulas also helps explain what doulas do to help labouring and birthing parents in many birth environments.  

  • Reassuring touch through massage and hands-on comfort measures 
  • Attention to language used during labor that can make a dramatic difference in the emotional and mental well-being of a labouring parent
  • Hand and sacral massage techniques and how they can be altered to provide comfort during vaginal and cesarean births.
  • Tools from their doula kits, such as the rebozo, birthing balls, and TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) were explained and demonstrated

If you are interested in a doula for your birth, check your local doula listings. Often, doulas will offer complimentary meet-and-greets to discuss what their practice is like and to see if you would be a good fit. 

If you'd like to look into doula training, check out your local doula training opportunities. DONA and CAPPA training courses are two that offer certification. 

*Originally published July 6, 2016