Nuts & Bolts: What exactly am I paying my doula for?

Image credit: shipulski.com

Next to finding a good personality fit in a doula, financial concerns are probably the biggest factor in choosing which doula to hire, and many potential clients ask me exactly what the fee covers. In some ways, that’s an easy question to answer: “My fee covers x number of prenatals,  labor, birth, and immediate postpartum, and x number of postpartum visits, as well as unlimited phone/text/email support.”

In other ways, not so much. Doulas have to strike a balance between affordability for clients, and maintaining a sustainable practice. This can be tricky sometimes, and often takes a lot of time (and mistakes) for a doula to figure out how to structure her individual fee. Finding that happy medium is essential: 1) to prevent burnout from being constantly on-call, and 2) to reach the widest economic base they can.

Basically, a doula is going to base her fee on a combination of a few factors. Her experience, how many births she can take on in a month, and her business expenses are all part of the equation.

Now, no doula enters this profession thinking, “I’m going to make it rich doing this!” No, indeed! Doulas are all heart, and do this work because they can’t not do it. Beyond their hearts, though, a doula does have to consider the financial part of the equation, because it would be unwise not to. After all, just because she had a light month, as far as births go, doesn’t mean her rent won’t come due.

That said, I would like to explain, as simply as possible, what a doula’s fee covers–both for the client, and for the doula herself.

Nuts and Bolts–What the fee covers for the Client:

  • 2-3 prenatal visits.
  • Labor, birth, and 2-4 hrs. postpartum.
  • 2-3 postpartum visits.
  • The tools in her birth bag.
  • Unlimited phone/text/email access. A doula’s time spent just communicating with her clients can quickly add up to several hours a week in order to make sure the client has all the emotional and informational support she needs.
  • Usually four full weeks of on-call availabilty, during which she cannot leave the area, must take her own car everywhere, and cannot make any firm commitments.
  • Objective help writing a custom-tailored birth plan.
  • Continuity of care throughout pregnancy, labor, birth, & postpartum period.
  • A walking birth encyclopedia.
  • Someone dedicated to keeping the environment peaceful.
  • A skilled communicator that helps create positive dialog among members of the birth team.
  • Specific to the doulas here at Preparing for Birth: Guaranteed back-up doulas, and continuous access for the doula to an experienced mentor when things get “interesting.”
  • A professional person with an emotional investment in each client’s care, who answers only to the client–not to hospital staff, doctors, or other family members.
  • If you’ve had a doula in the past, what might you add to this list that your doula did for you?

Balanced with the above are the doula’s financial needs. In order to do such demanding work, doulas need to charge enough that they can take enough births to meet those needs, but not so many that they burn out. Let’s face it: Living on-call nearly 24/7 most of the year can get exhausting for anyone–no matter their profession. Below is a basic explanation of where the doula will put her fee to good use.

Nuts & Bolts–What the Doula needs the fee to cover so she can keep working:

  • Childcare, if she has children too young to stay home alone. Most doulas pay their childcare person by the hour, and if a birth is long enough, that can add up to a significant portion of her fee. It’s probably the single biggest cost factor in this work.
  • Her time. Probably the second-biggest cost factor when setting a fee.
  • A back-up doula, on the off-chance she can’t make the birth.
  • Phone & internet bill, including website fees.
  • Gas money & mileage on a personal car.
  • Office space, even if it’s in her home.
  • Basic business supplies (paper, printer ink, files, etc…)
  • Business checking account
  • Certification Fees
  • Taxes and state business fees
  • Birth bag tools, some of which are costly, and all of which need to be replaced periodically.
  • Promotional materials and marketing.
  • Continuing education.
  • Professional memberships.

Most doulas spend a minimum of four to eight hours with their clients prenatally, as well as another two to four during the postpartum period–not including phone calls, emails, or texts. When the time spent with a client during her labor and birth is factored in, many doulas will need their fee to cover anywhere from 16 up to 36 hours or more of time, in total. If that were the only factor to consider, let’s take a look at what a Colorado Springs doula “brings home.”

Doulas in Colorado Springs charge anywhere from about $300 up to $650, which is actually somewhat less than other cities in the U.S. of similar population size. Doula’s fees range from $500 up to $850 or more (some go higher than $1,000) in other comparable cities (based on an informal poll I took in a birth professionals group).

So, if hours were the only factor, a Colorado Springs doula grosses about $19.00 to $40.00 per hour, for each client, at the minimum amount of hours she might work. This is before any of the other listed factors come into play. When those are factored in, what’s left for her time is often less than minimum wage.

Do you know what? It’s worth it for doulas! It’s enough for many just to be there, in that sacred birth space, participating with a family the way they do. Quietly going about their doula business caring for and nurturing a new family in the moment of its expansion, melting into the background, and holding space for the mother-baby unit to hold their focus. There is nothing like that moment when a woman looks up at her partner, that wet baby held tight to her chest, with tears in her eyes, saying “I did it!”

Doulas love what they do, and they share that love and passion with each family they serve.

Taking all this into consideration, hiring a doula is probably one of the most valuable things a mother can do for herself. Forget the fancy nursery decorations, stroller, and extra stuff. Instead, a mother can invest in customized, top-of-the-line, evidence-based care by hiring a doula–and get the best deal of her life for one of the most important times in her life!

Wondering how to afford a doula? Keep an eye out for my next post, with tips on how to get creative with finances to do just that!

I had a lot of help in putting this post together, and I just want to give a shout-out to my fellow doulas at Preparing for Birth: Sarah York, Christin Yorty, Rachel Madrigal, and Jamie Nyseth. Each of these women serve as wonderful peers and fresh perspectives, and I am privileged to work with them. Click HERE to visit each of their profiles.

Grace & Peace,
Tiffany

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5 Comments

Filed under All Things Doula, Pregnancy & Birth, Preparing For Birth

5 responses to “Nuts & Bolts: What exactly am I paying my doula for?

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. As doulas our work is truly is a labor of love.

  2. kim

    One thing that people do not often consider is the ripple effect on the doula’s life either. When I’ve attended births, my husband has had to handle household emergencies on his own; we’ve not gone on anniversary vacations he wanted to go on because I was on call; our 20-30 weekend bike trips our reduced to 10-15 so I’m no more than an hour away from home.; I do not so much as have wine with dinner (even special occasions) because I heard a doula badmouthed (by another birth worker) because she had and arrived at a birth with ‘alcohol on her breath’ (ONE glass of wine I know for a fact, and the parents were not offended). Kids birthday parties are missed…there a number of ways that the life of a doula (or midwife) is intertwined with a client.
    It is a blessing to attend births, and for some that is enough. But it is also a huge responsibility and I think some people only look at the actual time spent, where the doulas job may be holding the space for parents to work together (and thus not even LOOK like much even though it is) and not what the doula actually may had to give up to support a couple.

    • faerylandmom

      Indeed. And I think it’s important to help people see why we charge what we do, so they understand better. To me, being open about our fee, and what goes into the work is as much a part of informed consent as any medical procedure a mother may face.

      Thanks for commenting!

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