back-to-school-40596_640In North America, Europe and other northern hemisphere countries, it is the time of new backpacks, school buses and new routines. While we generally think of kids and college students at back to school time, it’s a great time for doulas to continue their education as well! We’ve compiled some ideas for how to expand your doula knowledge and skills both in serving your clients and in managing your doula practice. Know of another resource we missed? Share it in the comments!

DONA International Virtual Conference
The 2015 annual conference is available in its entirety until November 7, 2015. Watch the sessions at your own pace and when it is convenient for you. Earn up to 18.5 contact hours for recertification and learn about topics ranging from hospital based doula programs, VBACs, perinatal anxiety disorder, how to attract clients, language sensitivity, childbearing in the social context and more. View sessions descriptions, speaker bios and register on the virtual conference website.

Books and DVDs
While books and movies can be great solo education tools, you can also make reading and watching a way to connect with others. Reach out to your doula colleagues and see about swapping items from your library to expand your knowledge base AND your network. A group video viewing or book group (even a one-time book chat at a coffee shop) to discuss the material and how it applies to our role as doulas and each individual’s practice approach can help apply the information and deepen learning. Don’t let distance or family schedules dissuade you from learning with others, Google Hangout can support a book group or movie discussion with other doulas. Post in the DONA International Facebook group to get book or movie ideas and maybe even connect with other doulas for virtual get-togethers. Alternative contact hours are available for both book reviews and DVDs that relate to the childbearing year.

Cross Training & Certification
Training in another discipline, whether to become a dual birth and postpartum doula, lactation professional, childbirth educator or other service provider to families in the childbearing year not only expand your skills but also your services and network. Trainings provide the opportunity to meet other birth and postpartum professionals to gain ideas and insight, connect for support and even refer to each other’s services. Offering additional services can expand your client base as well. Look for training organizations with strong reputations in their field that are well recognized and regarded in the birth community. Programs which require additional work beyond attending a training to achieve certification as well as recertification demonstrate a commitment to providing a broad educational and experiential foundation and to ongoing learning. Consider the time and financial investment to become certified as well as the demand for such services in your area. The number of service providers already working in your area and the going rate for such services should also be considered. You can find out where the nearest birth or postpartum doula workshop to you will be on the DONA International website.

Continuing Education Programs
Even if you choose not to certify in another discipline, many organizations that offer certifications also provide continuing education available either to the public or to their members. Many offer continuing education credits from organizations DONA International recognizes for doula recertification. Here are some examples:

  • Any state, provincial or national board of nursing or nurses association – Many organizations offer continuing education programs for nurses including The Healthy Children’s Center’s breastfeeding education programs.
  • Area Health Education Centers – In the US, many states and even regions have a health education center that offers continuing education for health professionals including nurses, dieticians, social workers and doctors. Many of these programs are open to the public. Search your state and “AHEC” (i.e. CA AHEC) to find the closest resource to you.
  • Provincial Perinatal Services – In Canada, some provinces have perinatal service authorities which offer workshops and other forms of continuing education for health care providers serving pregnant women and newborns. British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario all have such an organization.

You can also attend conferences, workshops or trainings sponsored or approved by a number of continuing education providers such as Canadian Lactation Consultant Association, International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA) and Lamaze International.The full list of approved providers of continuing education contact hours is available here.

Keep in mind that community workshops that do not offer continuing education credits from an approved provider can also count if they are evidence-based and relevant to the childbearing year. Make sure to review the Alternative Contact Hours guidelines for birth or postpartum recertification on this option if you want to receive credit toward your recertification requirement. This information is available on the DONA International website under Professional Development.

DONA International Approved Continuing Education Programs
Formerly referred to as Advanced Doula Trainings, continuing education programs that have been approved for DONA International contact hours can be found on the website at:

Practice Building
Beyond gaining information, research and skills that enhance the support you provide to families (and your own recertification), it is important that we continue to expand the knowledge and skills necessary to manage our practices. Marketing, accounting, graphic design, public speaking and organization are not usually skills we list when describing ourselves to families, but they are important in managing a doula practice. Whether you operate as a solo practitioner, as part of an agency, with a collective or in a non-profit; the skills needed to be a successful practitioner go beyond those used while providing direct doula support to families.

Consider community college workshops (usually an hour to half a day) or courses (several days or weeks), online training programs, webinars, and women’s business or mompreneur conferences to learn and network. You may find that not only do you not have a skill needed for your practice but that you don’t want to learn it at the level you need. That’s absolutely OK! Additional knowledge will help you make an informed decision about how to fulfill that need. We doulas certainly know the value of making informed decisions, now don’t we?! Carry that thinking to your own doula practice as well.

There are learning opportunities everywhere. Take a moment, right now, and make a note of what you’d like to learn and how or where you might learn it. Reach out to someone in your network to see if they have a resource for you or would like to join you in your learning journey. Happy back to school!