Interested in working as a birth doula?
The idea of supporting a woman and her partner during childbirth can sound really exciting – it's such an honour to be present during such a miraculous time.
But you may have some important questions you'd like to know before you decide.
Working As A Doula
As a doula who trained in 2005 and as the creator of BellyBelly, I'm asked many questions about becoming a doula. Below are the most common questions I hear.
If you'd like a more in-depth look into what life is like as a doula, grab a copy of my well endorsed, comprehensive ebook, Want To Be A Doula? Everything You Need To Know.
#1: How Many Births Do You Attend Each Month?
You can attend as many births as you like. However, for every client you take on, you need to take into account pre-natal visits, the birth in it's duration, and post-natal visits.
Visits are usually around two hours in length (not including travel) and are a way for you to get to know the couple and understand their needs, fears and desires. It gives you the opportunity to learn about their wishes for the birth and what they need from you (which will vary from client to client).
Of course, any time spent with the birthing woman and her partner (if she has one) will help them to feel comfortable around you. During pre-natal visits, you're establishing trust, which is very important for a more successful outcome.
Births can sometimes be quick and straightforward, but they can also be long and physically and emotionally draining too. Start with one client per month, so you get a feel for how it will fit in with your lifestyle, and build up from there. Especially when you first start out, it can take so much out of you, both physically and emotionally.
#2: How Much Can I Expect To Earn Per Birth?
Each doula has their own birth package(s) — you're effectively running your own business, so you set your prices based on what you offer.
Some doulas have other qualifications and extra skills, for example naturopathy, massage, nursing, photography or childbirth education. Some have a background of supporting births for years, just without the formal doula training. However, just like myself, many women become doulas without any of those things, and that's perfectly fine too.
Ideally, a good package should include at least two pre-natal visits, the birth and one post-natal visit – at minimum. Some clients will want less contact and that's fine too. The more pre-natal visits you have, the more rapport and comfort you can establish before the birth — but of course, this has to match with what your client wants and feels comfortable with too.
Extra post-natal visits can be very helpful too, as parents often appreciate or need the extra support after giving birth. They may not realise the enormity of this until they give birth, so you can also offer clients an hourly rate for post-natal doulaing rather than include more in your packages. I included a gift membership with the Australian Breastfeeding Association with all my birth packages (I would purchase a gift subscription for them) so I knew they had that support after the birth too.
You may like to consider post-natal doula training to help you learn about specific needs and skills for working with post-natal mothers. You can become a post-natal doula as well as, or instead of, a birth doula. Some women are solely post-natal doulas, which is a good option if you're worried about working unpredictable hours or long births, and prefer to work with new mothers.
An hourly rate is charged but there is usually a minimum amount of time required per visit (e.g. two or three hours minimum) to make the travel and time worthwhile. The hourly rate can vary from $25 per hour to $110 per hour, averaging around $55-$60 per hour, and can be cheaper if in a package deal.
While you're a student, you need to attend births before you can become qualified. Some student doulas offer to attend for free and some have minimal fees of around $50-$100 to cover costs, for example petrol, car parking fees, childcare costs etc. Some charge closer to the qualified fee for their time.
However, even though you're a student, it is a really good idea to charge something, no matter if you think you should be paying the couple for the priviledge! It's important to appreciate and understand the value and worth of your time. Discomfort with money and business matters is a huge problem for birth workers, so starting out knowing you're worthy and valuable is very important.
As a qualified doula, several things are taken into consideration when setting fees:
- Doula's experience level
- Package offering (how many visits, extra skills offered)
- Other qualifications
- Personal choice setting fees
- Location considerations
- Demand considerations
When I became a doula in 2005 (in Victoria), the more experienced doulas were charging $800 for their packages, of around 1-2 pre-natal visits, the birth and one post natal visit. Since then demand has really grown, along with the profession. Many doulas realised that in order to dedicate this huge amount of time with women, they needed to make sure they are adequately financially covered, so they can keep doing the work that they do and not worry about money for their family.
It's impossible to work full time as well as work as a doula, not to mention also being a mother, which many doulas are! Even working part time along with doulaing is difficult (unless you have a very understanding boss in your other job), as you need to be on call 24 x 7.
Child care fees can come into play if you have trouble finding a friend or family member to help.
More recently, I've noticed many experienced doulas charging around $1,000 to $2,000 in Victoria and some other states. Again, you need to take all the above factors into account when setting your prices. But in order to have raving fans (and therefore more clients who don't bat an eyelid at your price) you need to make sure you offer a service in which the client thinks the value they received truly exceeded the price.
#3: Can I Expect a Regular Income?
Generally, as a newly qualified doula, the income will not be enough to provide a regular income to support you, it takes time to build up experience and therefore, fees you charge.
Births go through busier times and quieter times — towards the end of the year can get especially busy — in September you start to get those New Year's babies (hehe!) and many doulas go away or get busy with other things towards Christmas.
My busiest time as a doula was working over the Christmas and New Year period one year as there was a doula shortage! But the best way to ensure a regular income is to get involved in the industry, make yourself known as a doula and learn some good ways to market and get new clients consistently.
It's very important to remember that you're running a business, not just being a doula in a job. Part of having a business is knowing how to survive and thrive, and how you run and operate your business is a huge part of success or failure.
#4: What Sort Of Hours Can I Expect To Work? Can I Work Part-Time?
This is where you have to surrender your idea of working by the hour! There is no such thing as a shift “ the whole point of a doula is that you don't have one. You need to be available to the mother for her birth for the entire time “ this is how you get best outcomes, by offering continuity of care. Pre and post natal visits which will obviously be booked in at a mutually convenient time, but for the birth, you need to be there for her when she needs you, until she's settled after the birth.
Births durations can vary massively — I have missed a couple of births which happened as soon as the mother arrived through the doors. I have also been with a woman for around 30 hours. She was a sexual abuse survivor and it was very hard for her to be vulnerable. You're sometimes dealing with a woman's most challenging psychological issues at birth (which she may or may not have shared with you), but they often come to the surface at a time when they need to be the most vulnerable they will ever be.
So my answer to how many hours you could end up working is, ‘how long is a piece of string?!' Sorry, I had to say that!
#5: How Much Contact Do You Have With a Mother After The Birth?
This depends on how many post-natal visits you offer, and what you and your client feel comfortable with. Some doulas like to send a birthday card on the baby's first birthday, but usually once your contract has ended, you have little contact.
While it's a nice thought to keep in touch for a long time and to be part of the ‘family' (which does happen in some cases) it can actually be quite hard to keep up with all your clients after a while!
#6: Could I Be Too Old, Too Young Or Too Inexperienced In Birth?
Absolutely anyone can train to become a doula. There are even some male doulas working in several places around the world, but they are very few and far between. Training has no age limits or restrictions and is suited to anyone who has a calling to work with birthing women.
Even if you have no children, I have seen some wonderful childless doulas and midwives who have a magic touch with labouring women. Also, when you think about it, the obstetric profession is male-dominated — men have never given birth before either. But plenty of women don't mind seeing them.
Women choose male professionals because they are qualified in the skills they are seeking — as will you be. So there is no reason why you wouldn't make a great doula.
#6: How Do I Get Started?
The first step to becoming a doula is to check out the different classes on offer and choose the one that you think is best for you. It's very helpful to join as many networks and support groups as you can — many doula training organisations have them already, but online there are many more, like on Facebook or on website forums like BellyBelly.
It's great to learn together, especially from experienced doulas, and to just be around like minded women. The more exposure to birth you have and the more learning you do, the easier it will be gaining confidence as a doula.
Offer to help out with birth support/education/information sessions or groups, or ask an independent childbirth educator to observe their independent childbirth education classes. This is a great way to not only learn more about birth, but also get some contact with pregnant women — who are your potential clients.
I a am a big advocate for independent classes over hospital classes, and once you've seen your first independent class, you will know why. Its like comparing birth with a doula and birth without a doula — one way you'll be even more prepared and resourced than the other — you'll have a secret weapon that you wouldn't otherwise have.
Three books which are great to read about the work of a doula are:
- Want To Be A Doula? Everything You Need To Know by Kelly Winder (doula and creator of BellyBelly)
- The Doula Book by By Dr. Klaus, Dr. Kennell & Marshall which has just had a 2012 reprint. Klaus and Kennell are founding members of DONA (Doulas of North America, est. 1992) and are seen as foremost experts on doulas in the world.
- Doulas: Why Every Pregnant Woman Deserves One by Susan Ross (AUS)
- The Doula Advantage by Rachel Gurevich
- New Active Birth by Janet Balaskas (not specifically doula related but a must read)
Other articles to read:
- Birth Support: 10 Great Tips That Will Help Her In Labour
- Doula Training: How To Become A Doula In Australia