Certification is optional - there are no legal requirements anywhere in the world for a doula (birth or postpartum) to be formally trained and certified. You can choose to train and certify, work without any formal training, or opt for mentorship.
Mentorship involves finding an experienced doula who is prepared to have you attend the prenatal appointments and births of the clients she is working with for a period of time. It can be helpful to your confidence to see another doula working. However, it can be difficult to find women who are happy to another doula at their births who is just there to learn. Also, the presence of a less experienced doula can make it difficult for the mentor doula to focus solely on the needs of the birthing family.
Working without formal training and certification is an option that many doulas choose. You start promoting your services by word of mouth, advertising locally or on the internet, and begin working with pregnant women. If this is the option you choose it is helpful to begin networking within your local community to find out the options available to women and to build networks with local midwives, yoga teachers and clinics - wherever pregnant women may be going.
Certification and training can be beneficial in many ways. The first decision to make is what sort of training do you want to have. A weekend workshop will give you some hands on skills that you can practice in a group of other trainee doulas and a chance to get to know other doulas. The disadvantages is the limitations of how much can be covered in a weekend workshop, the need to wait for a workshop to run in your area, and the additional costs of travel, accommodation, meals and childcare. The other option is to choose a flexible learning or distance learning program. A flexible learning program gives you the opportunity to cover significantly more in your training and the time to absorb it and reflect on what you are learning. It may seem that this type of learning requires you to be more self motivated to finish your course, however most doula programs, regardless of whether they have a face to face component or not, require work to be done in your own time and therefore all require some degree of self motivation to complete the work.
When looking for a certification option these are some questions that you can ask yourself to see which organization is the right one for you.
What is the reputation of the organization? Ask on message boards and yahoo groups to see what others thought of the group they trained with.
How responsive is the organization? Write to them or call to see whether or not they are offering good customer service. If they respond quickly and are helpful this is a good indication of how much importance they put on customer service.
What does the training cover? Is there a component that specifically looks at communication (between doula and client, between health professionals etc)? Do they include a comprehensive section on physiology (the normal process of birth) and pathophysiology (when there are aspects of birth that are not normal)? Do they give you information on how to set up and establish your business?
Besides supporting women, what other requirements are there to complete certification? Most groups require some reading of books and will usually have a list of books to choose from. They may also require tests, essays or assignments, observation of childbirth classes or evaluations to be compelted by clients and caregivers.
Is there a time limit? Some groups have strict time limits when births and other certification requirements must be completed while others have no time limits. Can you start right away or are there specific dates when training takes place?
What sort of support do they have for their students? Is there a way of contacting other students for support? Does the trainer work with you only at the workshop, while you are completing the whole training process or continue to offer support even after you have finished your training?
Do they have a way for clients to find you through their website? Some organizations offer places where you can list your services and women can search for and contact you.
What additional costs are involved? Most organizations require you to be a member and recertify at regular intervals in order to maintain your certification. Alternatively you can choose an organization that does not require membership or recertification.
What is the philosophy of the organization? Make sure the philosophy of the training organization is one that you feel comfortable with. Do they have restrictions that you feel would not work for you? Do they have a philosophy that specifically supports evidence based care? What do they see as the roles and responsibilities of a doula and do these fit with your philosophy?
Good luck with your decision Mrsstice and congratulations on your pregnancy!