When I started as a doula nine years ago, I did something unpopular in my community – I charged for my services while doing my certification births. I charged a fee because my ALACE (now ToLabor) trainer suggested we do so. The next organization I trained and certified with, Birth Arts International, also encouraged us to charge for our services. And although I did so and was never challenged about charging by my clients, I was questioned on occasion by doulas in my community. Because at the time, getting paid for doula services prior to certification just wasn't how things were done. I later wrote a blog post on IBP about different pricing strategies and looking back at it now, I can see how even then, I was very careful about how I framed charging for services.
I recently came across this old blog post again, and I decided to ask the ladies on the Inspired Birth Pros Facebook group their take on how much doulas should be paid. Clearly, the tables have turned and it appears more doulas are told to not only charge right out of training but to make a "living wage."
There was some respectable debate with varying views. Even I admit, nine years later, that in hindsight, if I had it to do over again, I might have taken a different route and done some volunteer/low-cost births or paid for mentoring to feel more confident and get more experience more quickly. Is it because I'm in a different phase in my life that I think this way now?? I remember feeling pretty indignant in my 30s about "charging what I was worth." I spoke to quite a few people before I wrote the above blog post on doula pay strategies, and every person had strong convictions that the way they priced their services in the beginning was right for them. The same can be said about our Facebook discussion too.
While I wholeheartedly believe birth doulas should build a sustainable business where their income can contribute significantly to their household income, does that mean that new doulas should expect to be making a full or close to full rate shortly after completing training?
Marie Bigelow, doula, childbirth educator and author of The Sacred Gift of Childbirth, shared this in our Facebook group discussion for the case of starting out doing free births as part of training and incrementally raising rates with experience:
I think Marie gives us lots of food for thought.
In response to the idea of free or lower-cost births, there were a few responses from doulas who said this way of pricing worked well for them in terms of gaining experience quickly and helping their confidence grow. There were others who started off not charging or charging very little, and they ended up feeling taken advantage of, their confidence was shaken, or they faced burnout more quickly. Some women felt strongly that starting at the free/low range devalues the profession.
No matter what side of the spectrum you're on when it comes to pricing, I also really liked what birth doula and photographer Heidi Thaden-Pierce of Better Birth Doula Services (Check out her subscription-based Tips for Doulas program!) suggested:
Finally, Heidi shared one way a new doula can approach pricing:
So perhaps the post I wrote in 2010 about pricing strategies and how much a doula is paid has gone the way of the dinosaur. Industries evolve over time, and a movement toward being paid your worth is a good direction to move towards. No matter how you choose to price your services, make it right for you and your family. If you want to get a clearer picture of the breakdown of your rates, I found some blog posts written by doulas who shared their calculations — use these as examples to break down your own doula pay. And if you need some help tracking your income and expenses, the Birth Business Finance Kit has a lot of useful spreadsheets and a workbook to help you get organized.
Tell us about how your prices evolved in the comments. Or, join the Inspired Birth Pros group on Facebook and meet an awesome group of doulas and other birth professionals.