Interior Hero

Amazing founders

Amazing years

And many more to come!

DONA International History

DONA International was founded by pioneers who wanted to rediscover the essential ingredient of support in labor and postpartum.

Our long history begins with two of our founders. Dr. Marshall Klaus, a neonatologist, and Dr. John H. Kennell, a pediatrician, were colleagues at Case Western Reserve University beginning in the 1960s. Their research on bonding opened nurseries and led to a shift in thinking that healthy, premature and very sick babies alike benefit from contact and connection with their parents.

In their studies, Drs. Klaus and Kennell also discovered the benefits of continuous emotional and physical support from another woman in labor. The pair conducted the earliest controlled trials examining the effects of continuous support on labor outcomes. The results were impressive. What was this magic that labor support professionals seemed to bring to improve outcomes for moms and babies?

After connecting in the 1980s with co-founders Phyllis Klaus, Penny Simkin and Annie Kennedy, the group chose the word “doula” to describe a person who serves families in labor. The word comes from the Greek term for woman servant.

90 Founders5In 1992, these five maternal-child health experts came together to found Doulas Of North America. The goal of this new organization was to train birth doulas to support families in birth and during their early postpartum experiences. As the organization grew and the role of the doula spread world-wide, it became clear that DONA was no longer Doulas of North America, but instead was an International organization.  Doulas of North America officially became DONA International during the summer of 2004 at our annual conference in New Orleans, LA, to a packed house of cheering birth professionals!


Read on to learn more about our incredible history.

Dr. John H. Kennell

Dr. John H. Kennell

pictured seated in an image from the New York Times

The article, John Kennell, Advocate of Infant Bonding, Dies at 91, 

Today, DONA International is a thriving nonprofit organization with member doulas practicing in 56 countries around the world.

DONA International lobbies to get the word doula added to the dictionary

Since its inception, the organization has made significant impacts in maternal-child health field, as well as increasing public awareness of the role of the doula. In 2003, under the charge of Dr. Kennell, the Board of Directors established a committee of member leaders to lobby to have the word doula recognized in dictionaries across the world.  Under the leadership of the committee, the word doula was adopted as an official definition in the American Heritage Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary that same year.  The Merriam Webster dictionary followed, recognizing the definition of the doula in 2004. Here, former DONA President, Ann Grauer, presents Dr. Kennell with his copy of the first dictionary to include the definition.


Recent History and Progress

In the last eight years, DONA international has seen significant growth as awareness and demand grow for doulas. Since our founding, doula care has been studied extensively in scientific trials, and the results show better physical and psychological outcomes for mothers and babies. 

 In 2014, ACOG (The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists) and The Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine released an extensive evidenced-based journal titled Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean, in which they stated that “one of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes is the continuous presence of support personnel, such as a doula.”

As we move into these next years, DONA will be looking at how to continue to support our membership, strengthen the role of the doula, and increase awareness to the public about doula care and the benefits of hiring a doula. It’s been a great 25 years, and we can’t wait for the next 25.  We are #DONAProud.

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The evolution of our logo…

In the September 2016 issue of the International Doula magazine, founder Penny Simkin shares that the first logo was based on an original doodle that she created herself (far left). From Penny, “It showed layers of open hearts. The essential ingredient of the doula is an open heart; many doulas mean many open hearts. It was first used in a book, Special Women, by Polly Perez, which I published through my publishing company, Pennypress Inc.”  Penny shares that the second iteration (top right) was later adopted by the Board of Directors as they wanted something a bit bolder, and that eventually turned into the logo used in most recent history (bottom left).

During the summer of 2016, the DONA International Board of Directors revealed the new DONA International mark and logo! The mark took the original works into account and is made up of five hearts woven together, fluid and strong. The hearts represent our history, and the hearts of our founders introducing and promoting doulas to the world and as a profession.The new DONA logo mark honors our history but is unique and vibrant, ready for the next chapter of DONA International.


DONA 2016 and beyond…the future is bright!



In 25 years, we have certified more than 12,000 birth and postpartum professionals. When we think about the thriving careers they’ve built and all of families they’ve touched, and as we look ahead to our next 25 years, there’s no doubt that our DONA International members can truly change the world!

Fun with the founders

DONA members love connecting with the founders of our organization.

 As experts in maternal and infant health, labor support, and all things doula, it’s always an honor to learn from these visionaries.

The accomplishments of this collective group are outstanding, and we can and have learned so much through their teachings!  Scroll on through to see a few images of some of our members with our founders Annie Kennedy, Dr. John H. Kennell, Dr. Marshall Klaus, Phyllis Klaus and Penny Simkin.

With gratitude

The membership of DONA International thanks our founders for their visionary leadership. Under their excellent guidance in the early years, we have grown the role of the doula, DONA International, and the career and heart opportunities for our members. Thank you.
DONA International has always been groundbreaking and always firmly rooted in evidence-based care. You’ll see why as you learn more about our incredible founders Penny Simkin, Dr. Marshall Klaus, Dr. John Kennell, Phyllis Klaus and Annie Kennedy.


Annie Kennedy, BA

Annie Kennedy, BA

DONA Founder

Ms. Kennedy is a former birth doula, founding president of PALS Doulas in Seattle and the founding president of DONA International (previously known as Doulas of North America). She currently is Director of the Simkin Center for Allied Birth Vocations at Bastyr University. Her mother’s public health nursing stories of birth, the study of humanities and systems thinking fueled her interest; and the guidance of inspiring mentors and colleagues cemented it for life.  She is forever grateful for the privilege of receiving doula and midwifery care for the birth of her daughter, a privilege all women deserve.

John H. Kennell, MD

John H. Kennell, MD

DONA Founder

The late Dr. Kennell was a pediatrician and Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. He authored or coauthored several seminal books as well as numerous research papers, book chapters and monographs. He is best known for two research findings. The first was the importance of maternal infant contact that was the focus of the book Bonding: Building the Foundations of a Secure Attachment and Independence, which he coauthored with Dr. Marshall Klaus. Their groundbreaking research suggested that parents should have close contact with their newborn within minutes of birth in order to form a lasting attachment. These studies led to changes in hospital procedures worldwide to allow mothers to have contact with their newborns immediately after birth and later opened up labor and delivery areas to fathers and families. He and Dr. Klaus also demonstrated that having a trained companion during labor and delivery greatly reduces labor time, perinatal complications, and the need for medication and cesarean delivery. He is coauthor of The Doula Book and a founder of DONA International (formerly Doulas of North America).

Marshall Klaus, MD

Marshall Klaus, MD

DONA Founder

The late, Dr. Klaus’s life work was that of a neonatologist and Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco. Together with his colleague, Dr. John H. Kennell, he began studying mother-baby bonding in the 1960s after noticing that mothers whose babies were in the neonatal intensive care unit struggled to attach to their infants after release. Their work was instrumental in gradually opening premature and sick baby nurseries to parents worldwide and to allow parents of normal, full-term infants to be with their babies during the first moments after birth. Together, the two physicians also conducted the earliest studies on the benefits of continuous labor support. Dr. Klaus is a founder of DONA International (previously known as Doulas of North America). He is co-author of the books Care of the High Risk Neonate; Bonding: Building the Foundations of a Secure Attachment and Independence; The Doula Book and Your Amazing Newborn, in addition to numerous journal articles.

Phyllis Klaus, MFT, LMSW

Phyllis Klaus, MFT, LMSW

DONA Founder

Ms. Klaus is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and social worker. Formerly on the faculty of the Department of Family Practice, Michigan State University, she currently teaches and practices in Berkeley and Palo Alto, California, providing psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and counseling to individuals, couples, families and groups. She has been involved with doula and perinatal research and worked with the concerns, both medical and psychosocial, of pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period for the past 35 years.  She consults nationally and internationally and is co-author of The Amazing Newborn; Mothering the Mother; Bonding; Your Amazing Newborn; The Amazing Talents of the Newborn video; The Doula Book; and When Survivors Give Birth. She is a founder of DONA International (previously known as Doulas of North America).

Penny Simkin, PT, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA)

Penny Simkin, PT, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA)

DONA Founder

Ms. Simkin is a physical therapist, childbirth educator, certified birth doula, birth doula trainer and DONA birth doula mentor. She has been training doulas since 1987. Her work on the lasting impact of birth memories is foundational research for the entire doula profession. She is a founder of DONA International (previously known as Doulas of North America) and an international speaker and author or co-author of numerous articles and books, including Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn; The Birth Partner; The Labor Support Handbook; and When Survivors Give Birth.


Years training doulas

Countries with DONA doulas

DONA certified doulas