I started my doula career almost immediately after my second child, who was also my first VBAC baby, was born. My doula for that birth made a significant impact on my confidence and helped me feel emotionally prepared for whatever path my birth ended up taking.
I know it sounds cliché, but I almost immediately felt called to do the same for other parents giving birth. I almost instantly specialized in VBAC and was pretty good at it (if I do say so myself).
Although I had learned a lot preparing for my VBAC, there is a lot more to becoming a doula than hip squeezes and hand-holding.
How long does it take to become a doula? In most cases, it takes up to two years, sometimes even as long as four.
For me, it was worth it.
Now that I have been a doula for five years, I have much more experience and knowledge about the business of being a doula, and I want to share it with you!
In this blog, we will learn more about the doula career, the doula job description, what the pay and time commitment is like, and how to get your first clients. We’ll also talk about what a doula does that you might not even realize.
Doula job description
Childbirth coach, birth attendant, birth companion, there are many different ways to describe what a doula is. Sometimes, even now, I struggle to come up with an under-30-seconds elevator speech, because there is so much we do as doulas.
It seems impossible to convey the emotions, the physical work, the 24/7 on call for months at a time, the joy, the sadness, and all the complicated situations I have supported parents through.
Basically, doulas serve parents by providing physical, emotional, and educational support prenatally, during birth, and in the postpartum period.
While there are many types of doulas, including postpartum doulas and perinatal doulas, today I am focusing on the birth doula. Birth doulas stay with the birthing person throughout labor and immediately postpartum.
Doulas get to know the birthing parent(s) very well, doing visits with them prenatally to discuss their birth plans and goals. Supporting the father or other support person and helping them know how to be involved is also an important part of our job.
A doula’s job is not to replace the birth partner, but to facilitate a stronger connection between the parents as they go through the process.
Essential doula skills
If you’re thinking about becoming a doula, these are some of the essential skills that will help you succeed:
- Extensive childbirth experience or taking a full, in-depth doula training program
- A calm and reassuring presence during stressful situations
- Capability to provide accurate information and answer questions without judgment or personal bias
- Continuing education on prenatal, childbirth, and postnatal care
- The skill to be calm, multitask, and be emotionally supportive 100% of the time, even during panic and emergencies
- Impeccable interpersonal and communication skills
What it’s like to be a doula
While every doula has a different story and a different reason for pursuing birth work, we all have a lot of things in common.
Some doulas take 4 to 6 clients a month, and make it a full-time career. Others take a client here or there as they can, and use it as more of a supplemental income. There are all sorts of ways to manage your client load and doula work.
I am going to share a sneak peek about what it’s like for me and what that looks like in my life. As a doula, I take one to two clients a month. That is my sweet spot and allows me time to manage my doula business, The VBAC Link, my family, and being 110% available for my clients.
Being a career doula is probably one of the most rewarding and most challenging things I have ever done. Here are the top ten things that stand out to me about doula work:
1. It keeps me on my toes and humbles me.
Just when I think I have birth and pregnancy all figured out, a curveball is thrown at me. It has taught me to be patient with the process of not only birth, but in all areas of my life. Everyone has a unique journey and my expectations are constantly challenged.
2. What could be better than helping parents enter motherhood, fatherhood, and parenthood?
I get to witness new life come into this world regularly and it is pretty inspiring. Women are amazing and getting to witness that power and strength over and over again is truly a gift and I LOVE it.
3. Consistently learning new things
My doula career offers plenty of opportunities to learn and become better — it’s a great perk! I am always looking for new classes to take and reading up on the latest research so I can be the very best doula for my clients.
4. Professional relationships in the doula community
Keeping professional memberships with Evidence-Based Birth, Utah Doulas & Company, and the Utah Doula Association allows me to connect and build relationships with doulas in my local community and all over the country. Heaving people that “get it” is so important, especially after a long, hard birth.
5. Doulas are on call 24/7.
Being on-call 24/7 is a sacrifice, and as a doula, I am almost constantly on call. I have to set aside time for holidays and breaks 9 months in advance. I plan my vacations around my clients’ due dates so I can go outside of a one-hour radius from my home.
I have missed family vacations, birthday parties, baby showers, and many other events due to being on-call or at a birth.
6. My kids get to learn about birth.
It is fun when my kiddos run up to me excited to watch their or their siblings’ birth videos! All my kids were in the room when my last baby was born and my oldest, who was almost five at the time, was my doula. In fact, whenever I leave to attend a birth, I have to promise them I will bring home a picture of the baby so they can swoon over it.
7. Flexible hours and workload
The hours and workload are flexible in my doula career. It’s pretty sweet to be able to do what I want when I want with my business. I get to control my client load, my work output, and my schedule (except when babies decide to come). The flexibility is great.
8. Sometimes, birth can be traumatic.
Sometimes, birth trauma happens. Sometimes babies don’t make it and are stillborn. Sometimes they are premature and need significant help. Sometimes there are complications and the mother’s life is in danger.
Nothing can prepare you for supporting your first loss; this is when it is important to be able to stay calm and in control during chaos as a doula. Your clients will need you in the biggest ways.
9. Building lifelong relationships
Most of my clients become my friends and I enjoy following them and their babies throughout their lives. The birth community is full of incredible people and being able to connect with and learn from them is priceless.
10. Hidden doula ninja skills
I bust out my hidden doula ninja skills on almost everyone. All. The. Time. Being a doula, I just can’t help it!
My doula career has helped me become a better listener and develop more empathy. I’ve also learned to be a better communicator and truly help people with my words and my ears.
I have doulaed my kids through stitches, my husband through a hard point in his life, my friends during traumatic moments, and even myself from time to time.
Being a doula is definitely a work of the heart. But, to make it sustainable and avoid burnout, doulas need to charge what they are worth, considering all the intangibles.
Here in Utah, doulas range from $800 to $1400, depending on experience and education. The average wage might vary, depending on your local community.
We encourage you to connect with fellow doulas or even search Doula Match to get a glimpse at the salary range in your area. When you are first starting out, being on the lower end of that range might be a good idea. As your skills, knowledge, and experience grow, your fee should increase.
It should be more than a labor of love. Doulas should be generously compensated for their hard work.Neri Life-Choma, Birth Coach Method
Consider the amount of time you spend with each client counting prenatal visits, birth, and postpartum. I have attended births as short as 3 hours and as long as 46 hours. That is a BIG range. Understanding the average amount of time you will spend should factor into your fee. The average birth, for reference, is about 16-18 hours long.
Consider the number of clients you will take on each month. Overloading your calendar might cause conflict. Know that 4-5 clients a month is considered a full-time schedule.
Intangible costs, like being on call continuously, missing out on vacations, birthdays, holidays, and other special events is something every doula goes through. Having your phone on you 100% of the time is necessary as well as not being able to go away for a spontaneous weekend, to lunch more than an hour away, and getting used to being awake through the night are common.
Almost half of your doula fee will go to business expenses such as gas to and from meetings and births, cell phone usage, babysitters, training and certification, professional memberships, websites, marketing, and other things.
Oh! And don’t forget to save 30% of your fee for taxes. You want to set your fee to cover all of these things and then what you want to take away.
Getting your first doula client
Being a new doula, fresh out of training, can be intimidating. It is hard to know where to start, especially if you are not connected with other birth workers in your area.
Here are some ways to start connecting with your community and potential clients, as you begin your doula career:
- Ask around your local hospitals and see if they have a volunteer doula program
- Search for a doula agency in your area
- get involved in your local doula and mom groups on Facebook
- post about your new career on your social media pages
Word of mouth is one of the biggest ways I get new clients, but some simple marketing and promotion can go a long way. Make a Facebook business page, get a profile on doulamatch.net, make a website and post blogs on pregnancy and birth-related topics and share them.
As you get to know more experienced doulas in your area, you can ask them to refer clients to you who might not be able to afford a doula with a higher fee.
There are a lot of creative ways to get yourself out there as a new doula!
What does a doula do?
Let’s get real. There are a lot of things we do that just aren’t realized by people until we are in the moment.
Aside from what I covered above, I’ve put together a list of more specific roles and tasks doulas take care of in the course of supporting birthing parents:
- Lower the chances of Cesarean and other interventions
- Help parents sift through mountains of information to find things relevant to them
- Finds out what is really important to the birthing family
- Taking calls and texts to answer questions from clients at all hours
- Helping to interpret medical information from the birth team
- Helping parents remember all the techniques they learned during pregnancy for coping during labor, like hypnobirthing and other relaxation tools
- Reminders for self-care for both the birthing person and their partner
- Providing counterpressure and other tools to lighten the intensities of labor
- Navigating through unexpected changes, whether laboring at home or hospital
- Working through challenges as they come up
- Helping parents become more prepared
- Helping the birth partner be as involved as they want to be
- Supporting initial breastfeeding
- Giving reassurance
- Listening without judgment or bias
- Being fully present for the mother, helping her to contain fears, discomfort, and moments of uncertainty without attempt to dismiss, dumb-down information, avoid questions, or block them
Starting a career as a VBAC doula
Being a doula is one of the best jobs in the world! As a doula specializing in VBAC, birth after Cesarean is so close to my heart and I especially love working with VBAC families.
There is no better moment than seeing someone who has been told countless times that they “can’t deliver vaginally” bring a baby up to their chest after a VBAC.
It can be hard knowing the intricacies of VBAC and how to navigate through them as a doula. That’s why we created our Advanced VBAC Doula Certification, to get you up on your VBAC support game, so you can be 100% confident in supporting birth after Cesarean.
After you have the basic training to start your doula career under your belt, make sure to enrol!