There are many ways birth doulas set their prices and even whether or not to charge when they are starting out. Different doula organizations suggest different methods of whether, when and what to charge. I will go out on a limb (and may be disagreed with vehemently, I know) and discuss some ways that others I've spoken to have structured their pricing. Hopefully, these examples will help you to decide what works best for you.
Not Charging While "In-Training"
I understand that there are doula trainers who tell students not to charge while doing their first few births or their certification births. Understandably, you are learning a new trade, and a couple days over a weekend plus a couple of books are not sufficient to support the first few couples you work with.
Some new doulas find that a downside is the lack of commitment from couples who agree to have the doula at the birth. Other doulas have looked at free births as an opportunity to be of service to couples who may not otherwise be able to afford services and have been lucky to connect with those who really appreciate the services provided.
My suggestion to doulas-in-training who decide to do free births is to have a solid contract that outlines the expectations for themselves as well as the couple. I would also suggest putting a dollar value on your services, even though you're not charging, so the couples do understand that your services are of value and as such you must be respected as a professional.
If you can locate a non-profit group or a mentor to work under, that is another way to gain experience without charging.
Doula Services as Ministry
Some doulas choose to offer free doula services as part of their ministry work, and this works well for them.
Charging a Minimal Amount to Cover Basic Expenses
Some doulas choose to charge an amount that would cover basic expenses such as gas and childcare, often under $100. This can be outlined in an agreement as well.
Charging a Lower Than Average Fee
Doula fees vary in different communities. It's a good idea to find out what an average rate is in your area. When you decide to begin charging for your services, you may want to start at a rate that is lower than average, and slowly raise your fee as you gain experience.
Charging Based on Previous Experience
If you were previously in the health field or have other skills in holistic therapies, you may be able to create a niche for yourself for those who would like doula services as well as other services you offer. If you have previously worked with birthing women, say as an RN, for example, you may be able to begin charging a rate that's comparable to experienced doulas in your area. If you offer complementary services, you could offer packages, and perhaps the doula package could be lower than average, but it could be made up with the price of other services you sell.
Charging on a Sliding Scale
Some doulas want to be able to offer services to a wide range of clients based on their ability to pay. Some use guidelines similar to Medicaid to determine their rates. Others may have a base rate that they get from everyone, and tell their clients to pay an additional amount equal to what they think the doula's value was to them.
Bartering for Doula Services
An option for those who want to trade services is to set up a bartering system where clients can trade services or products in exchange for doula services.
Which Way is Best?
That really depends on your personality, what your market will bear, how popular doula services are in your area, etc. One of the best things about owning your own practice is that you can mix and match models, try one model with one client and then abandon it the next.
I Was Told I Shouldn't Charge But Disagree With It
If you believe you are worth at least a certain fee but was told you must do free births, remember that you have your own business and you call the shots. Unless it's a stated requirement by the overall training organization, really think hard about whether it will work for you and follow your intuition. If this requirement will cause you undue strain and stress, it will come across with couple you are interviewing with. Talk to other doulas in the area. Are there a lot of doulas doing free births? If so, understand that you may be competing with others with your same level of doula experience who are not charging.
Price Isn't Everything
Having a doula at a birth is a very personal choice. In most cases, couples will choose who they work with based on who they resonate with the most. After all, next to sex, birth is an extremely intimate experience. Women need to feel a great deal of trust in the doula they choose, and price may or may not be an issue. They need to feel safe when they are in their chosen birth environment.
So How Do I Differentiate Myself From Other Doulas in My Area
First of all, understand that there is a doula for every woman and that doula may not be you every time you interview with a potential client. Really and truly, we are not here to compete with one another. We would encourage every woman who wants one to have a doula, and the more doulas there are, the more choices women have. That's the beauty in our diversity as birth professionals. Women should have the freedom to choose the perfect birth team for themselves.
Here are ways to help you attract clients who will work best with you:
- Consider a niche for yourself. Perhaps you find you attract many teen moms or women seeking VBACs. If you have a passion for a certain type of client, concentrate on that demographic and find as many ways to connect with those people. By doing so, you will soon be considered THE doula to hire if people are having a particular kind of birth.
- If you offer other kinds of services that can help you create a niche for yourself as well. If someone wants a doula who is a massage therapist, that would likely whittle down the choices women have in your area.
- If you discover your niche, make sure you create a referral network of those who know you cater to a particular group of women. Communicate this well on your website and other marketing materials.
- Create opportunities for women to experience you and your energy by offering free talks, hosting a birth circle or a "Meet The Doula Night". Pair up with practitioners in your referral network who may already have an audience of potential clients for you.
- Explore your personal philosophy about birth and how that relates to your potential clients. For example, if, at this point in time, you feel you only want to help women who want a natural birth, seek clients who want a natural birth. Again, make this clear on your marketing materials and work with others in your referral network.
- Understand that as you grow as a doula and gain more experience, you may find your philosophy about birth changes. Do the inner work necessary to know yourself best. One sure way to burn out is to work with women whose philosophy is very different from yours. If you are unable to leave your judgments at the door of the birth room, at the very least, be mindful of who you choose to work with. The more aligned you are with your client, the easier it is to fully support them.
A Few Things To Consider
I spoke once with a woman who got a degree in social work. All throughout school and her internships, she was never paid. However, her clients did not get their services for free. They paid the school's clinic for her services. They did not offer completely free services because they found clients did not have any incentive to see their treatments through. Her suggestion for doulas was to consider asking clients to make a monetary donation or volunteer with a cause that is important to them. This way, there is an exchange.
Another doula I once spoke to was completely content doing free births. She felt that it was a special honor that her couples were entrusting her to witness the birth of their child. The exchange in her mind was the intent of an exchange of energy. She earned experience and the couple benefited from her services.
Yet another view is that to insist that doulas do free births is to devalue this important service to women, and that it can ultimately devalue the profession as something that can be acquired free. If one can find someone for free, why pay? Think about the various services you use in your everyday life. What is your personal opinion on the value you place on free vs. paid services? Do you take one more seriously than another? Do you wonder why some services are free? What do you tend to value more or less?
And finally, examine all the factors that go into being a doula when deciding on whether what and when to charge. How much time does it take for you to prepare for meetings? What do you need to do to ensure your family is well cared for in your absence? What do you need to pay and to whom in order to do this work? Place a dollar value on your time. What are you really worth? Do you feel worthy to ask for what you feel is fair? Is there undue pressure for you and your family financially if you DON'T charge for your services?
So Many Choices
I realize I may have just confused you more about pricing. I hope I offered several perspectives for you to consider. It's up to you to decide what works best for you. If you're completely confused, I would suggest talking it through with someone. Get your partner involved and gather his or her perspective. Look at your own financial situation. Consider how much time you want and need with your kids. Create your own best scenario. If that still doesn't help, journal, or sit in a quiet place, take some deep breaths, and ask yourself what to do. You have an inner voice that will give you the answer you seek. It's typically the quiet voice, not the one that's listing off twenty reasons why you need to do this or that. Always remember two things: 1) You can always change your pricing structure, and 2) Always give your clients an agreement so everyone is on the same page as far as expectations go.
As You Gain Experience
As you gain experience, you will become clearer about how your services are unique and how you can best serve your clients. You will also learn how much time it takes to work with each client. I encourage you to research the going rates in your community and begin raising your rates. Continue raising your rates every few months as you become more experienced until your rates are competitive with others in your area. Recognize that birth doulas are professionals offering an extremely valuable service, and they deserve to be paid accordingly. You help raise the whole doula community this way too.
If you want to continue this discussion, come join the Inspired Birth Pro Facebook group. I'd love to know how your pricing structure evolved. Please remember no one way is right or wrong. Just like with birth, each doula needs to decide what is best for her situation.