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What to do about a 'bad doula'?

November 08, 2012

Bad Doula

If you have been in the doula field long enough you have likely heard your share of stories about the 'bad doula'.  I remember one that was told to my client from her OB.  He said that there were a few 'bad doulas' that had to be escorted out of the hospital by the security guards.  Really?  I was so intrigued by this tale that I had to verify it at the hospital where the incident supposedly occurred.  As you can imagine that story was completely false.  Another story that pops up every year is the one about the 'bad doula' that left her client in labor because the client decided to get an epidural.  I have heard this one multiple times over the years. Is it true? I sure hope not.  I really doubt it.

So many of the 'bad doula' stories are incorrect.  I tend to just ignore most of these.  They are usually too far fetched to even be believable.  So, what do we do when the 'bad doula' stories are actually TRUE?

What do we as doulas do when we know that there is a doula in our community that is actually a 'bad doula'?

If we know a doula is

  •  consistently practicing out of scope
  •  not showing up for births
  •  giving incorrect or dangerous information?

What then?

Is it our responsibility to warn the community?  Do report the 'bad doulas' to their certifying organization (if they have one at all)? Do we warn care providers in the area?  I wish I had the answers to these questions.

What I do know is that 'bad doulas' are not only a problem for the clients that they work with, but also have an impact of the doulas in their community.  Enough 'bad doula' behavior and the other doulas might feel the negative effects.

Do you have any experiences or insight to share? Please post your comments!

7 Responses


January 02, 2014

I’ve heard of a couple of bad doulas. I don’t know them, but I know they are out there. Emily, what you described is for DONA, but there are so many other organizations. I went through CBI but I still had to have two certifying births. Now for Lee, are you sure the doula wasn’t working on a certifying birth? Also having a college degree or medical training means nothing. Heck we don’t do anything medical related.


March 05, 2013

I am concerned about the little or no educational and evaluational standards for Doulas. My daughter recently hired one in business for 2 years. This person was Yoga teacher for several years, then took the on line certification Doula classes – a pass rate of 92 per cent.
This Doula has never given birth or breast fed, has no college degree, or any real medical training. Recently my daughter (age 35, first birth, Ph.D. From well known Univ.) has been criticising hospitals as if they are the enemy of birthing Moms- something to be feared and avoided. Plus, she is group B beta strep positive and told the midwife that she will not be coming to the hospital when her water breaks- as is medically advised. Couldn’t understand these and other attitudes until I got to the doula’s web page. The doula thinks she knows everything – how to be an organic pure mother.
These on line, weekend ‘trainings’ that qualify people to be with, advise, guide, whatever words you want to use, for women giving birth are not adequate. There needs to be state or province regulations and licensing. It took me 5 years of college and additional professional
Training to teach science to young people. The whole birthing process is even more important than science education. Why should so little education and training be required
for doulas? This is of great concern to me after seeing how my own daughter’s attitudes have been influenced by some one with so little experience and questionable ‘education.’


June 24, 2013

This is for Lee who posted the first comment.

You mention that the doula’s education is questionable.

HERE is the way a doula becomes certified:

- Reads a massive cartload of birthing books / how to be a good doula books.
- Attends a weekend workshop (you mention this).
- Attends a Breastfeeding Training Course (teaches you how to support the mother to breastfeed – it may surprise you that some nurses will not help get breastfeeding started!)
- Attend a Childbirth Education Course
- Then you can take on clients to whom you do not charge (or charge for say hospital parking and some food from a vending machine).
- You must have 3-6 clients depending on who you certify through.
- These clients are aware that you are in training and choose to use you anyways.
- Once the baby is born and all is well, the doctor/ob-gyn must sign papers agreeing that you were professional and they must give you very high ratings for it to be passed by the evaluation team at the certifying agency.
- The primary nurse must sign papers agreeing that you were professional and they must give you very high ratings for it to be passed by the evaluation team at the certifying agency.
- The Birth mother must sign papers agreeing that you were professional and they must give you very high ratings for it to be passed by the evaluation team at the certifying agency. (of course you don’t do this at the hospital, you do it once they are back at home after the birth.)
- A doctor (ob-gyn preferred), must give you permission in writing to provide a telephone evaluation of your services witnessed to the agency. (if you are a good doula it will not be hard to get this)
- You must sign code of ethics and standards of practice. You will no longer be certified if you breech these.
- Write several essays.
- You must fill out 1001 papers of evaluations, tests etc.
- Send everything in. This will be evaluated (trust me, they will be tough.)
- Finally once you are certified you must continue your birth education.

It actually takes a minimum of one year (most take much longer) to complete all that is necessary to become a certified doula. It sounds to me that this ‘certified doula’ you mention is actually a doula in training. As a doula myself, I find that these doulas in training because of their lack of experience tend to sometimes feel like the ultimate expert. Yes, all doulas must start at beginner point so there are some wonderful doulas in training. It is very important to interview more than one rather than taking the first person you meet, that way you will know what ideas about birth they have.
To have a pass rate of 92% simply does not make sense. People just don’t usually stick with a job like this. Many doulas start off, doula for a year or two uncertified.. Then quit.
I would say that about 5 out of every 50 doulas who take the workshop which they do ‘pass’ easily, will actually continue to become certified doulas.

Kayla Harvey
Kayla Harvey

November 08, 2012

I agree with what Cynthya said. Encouraging clients to do some research not only empowers them in their birth choices but allows them to learn more about birth professionals in their community and what other services may be available.

In regards to what to do about a “bad doula”, I think it is important to report them to their certifying organization (if any) when serious issues are continuously being reported and can be verified.


November 08, 2012

I’ve never heard of many “bad doula” situations with my own clients but only from doctors or nurses. Mostly what I’ve heard is complaints about doulas overstepping their place so I try my best to represent doulas well. I hope with each interaction with doctors and nurses they form a new opinion about the role and support doulas can be to the team. That way they will see “bad doulas” as a minority if they do in fact encounter them and appreciate when a client has a terrific support system in place that includes a really great doula that also knows her place on the team. If a client did have a really awful experience with a doula, I would encourage her to report it to the certifying organization if certified or let people know. Word of mouth travels fast.

Nicole McKay
Nicole McKay

February 06, 2013

Just North of here, we have a hospital that said they had too many problems with bad doulas that they have put in a requirement for doulas to carry $5 million in professional liability insurance – more than some of the medical care providers! Of course, this can be a huge financial obstacle for some new doulas to practice but I am happy to say many have not let that stop them. They got the insurance and are still practicing in that hospital.

In the last few months, I’ve also had stories of doulas practicing outside of their scope and as a result, some midwives don’t know what to say and often won’t recommend having a doula because of the experience. Sad, but true. Thankfully some bridges are being mended when they learned that trained/certified doulas also have grievance policies that can provide some recourse.

I agree with what you said Cynthia, I always encourage people to check out other doulas, learn about them, ask questions, contact training/certification organizations. When it comes for myself, as part of what I bring to an interview, I hand them all copies of my CV. They can see my background and I always offer if they want to speak with references. They might not think of it and I want them to be confident that it is the right fit – or not. Very much like what we normally do, we offer options and alternatives. If I’m not the right fit, I’m happy to refer them to someone else who can really support them in the way they are looking for.

Cynthya Dzialo
Cynthya Dzialo

November 08, 2012

I encourage potential clients to interview several doulas to find a great match and to be sure that they receive RECENT recommendations about these doulas before signing a contract. I tell them to ask their midwife or OB about their experience working with the doula, and also talk to former clients who have recently hired her. They can check out Yelp and Kudzu for reviews too. Be sure to confirm that the doula/lactation consultant/childbirth educator is INDEED certified if she claims to be – check with the certifying organization! Also, ask the social community – use Facebook and Twitter to see if your potential doula checks out.

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