Should You Become a Doula?

To many, the idea of being a birth doula is very romantic. Your client calls you, saying she’s in labor and she needs your help- you rush to her aid, guide her gently and confidently through her labor, develop a great rapport with the hospotal staff, witness a beautiful natural birth, and then go home happy to your soft warm bed. (All within about a 12 hour time period, right?)

Unfortunately, not all doula gigs go as smoothly as this one. Many times, being a doula means last minute phone calls for back-up childcare, 2-3 nights of minimal to zero sleep, hard physical work, and putting your own preferences aside to support mom, regardless of her birth choices. Don’t get me wrong- I love doula-ing (even though I’m still very new at it), and it’s extremely rewarding. But before you become a doula, think through these questions:

  • Can I be on call any time of the day or night? Do you have another job? Regular pressing commitments? Are you out of town frequently? If you have a lot of other commitments that can’t easily be let go, then being a doula might not be the best job for you.
  • Do I have childcare available to be on call any time of the day or night? If you have children, then guess what- you’ve got to have someone watch your kids! For many women, hiring an on-call babysitter is too costly to justify the time away from your children to doula. For my situation, however, it works out quite nicely. My husband is home by 4 pm most weekdays, so he is my “on-call sitter” for evenings, nights, and weekends. From 7 am to 4 pm, I have my mother (who works part time and adores time with her grandchild), sister in law (who stays at home with her own little one), and two other stay-at-home moms who are willing to help out, depending on their schedules. It is very important that you have back-up childcare, and even back-up for your back-up. You don’t want to be at a birth and find out that no one is available to watch your children in an hour.
  • Do you have a back-up doula who is on call any time of the day or night? Find another doula in your area and play back-up for each other. This is essential for any time that your client might not be able to get ahold of you, or if you have been at a birth for 72 hours and need a 6 hour reprieve for sleep, or if you have a family emergency. Again, you need a back-up for your back-up, just in case. I work with two back-up doulas in my area.
  • Do you have business skills, or can you learn them? I highly recommend browsing The Doula Business Guide by Patty Brennan before opening your doula business. There’s a ton to learn! I am still studying up in this area.
  • Can you communicate well?  See my post on Communication in Birth Work. Communicating with expectant families and their caregivers requires a lot of listening and thinking before you speak.  If you have a hard time holding back your opinion while you listen, you may need to work on taming your tongue before you start doula-ing.
  • Are you physically fit for long hours of hard labor? True, the mother is definitely the one doing the hardest work. But the doula is also in for the long haul. Try doing counter-pressure on the mother’s sacrum for every contraction for 3 hours. Or supporting her in the dangle through an hour of pushing. Or doing belly-lifts from the base of her hospital bed while the mother lies on her back (unconventional, I know!) throughout early labor. Your back is going to be hurting too after all that. But it’s not about you- it’s about the mother.
  • Can you keep your cool in the face of opposition? During a birth is not the time to try to change hospital policies. You must be able to develop the art of maintaining a sincere, pleasant relationship with the staff, but also firmly holding to the mother’s preferences. You must learn to mediate gracefully and tastefully. 
  • Can you support the mother even when her wishes are different from yours? Remember- the mother did NOT hire you to have you try to convince her out of an epidural. She hired you to give her comfort measures, to stay with her, to talk her through everything, to help her have the best and most physiologic birth possible. It’s your job to do everything within your power to support mom’s preferences and then do your job within her framework, not yours.
  • Can you stay within your scope of practice? Doulas are not medical caregivers. Do not offer medical advice. I repeat, do not offer medical advice. As Patty Brennan said in The Doula Business Guide, you are not getting paid enough to take this kind of risk. You do not know enough to take on this kind of risk. You did not go for years of schooling to take on this kind of risk. Your scope is continuous emotional, physical, and informational support to the mother and her family. If you cannot restrain yourself, go become a midwife, nurse, or OB.
  • Do you feel “called” to this work? Doulas typically get very little financially in return for their hours. If you are looking for a lucrative business, go someplace else. Doulas aren’t in the work for recognition- if you are looking to be a hero in the labor room, you have the wrong motives. If you want to be a doula for the fun of it, maybe you should consider a different job. (It is wonderful to doula, but it’s a lot of hard work too!) You have to truly love supporting mamas and babies to doula. I consider doula-ing to be a ministry to blossoming families. I have an opportunity to serve them at a very vulnerable, personal, and spiritually open time in their lives. I pray that I would take my role seriously and serve families humbly and with grace.
  • Does your family support your decision to doula? I consider this item to be very important. Doulas spend long hours away from their families for very little pay. If your family doesn’t support this work, then it is not worth the stress to your home to continue in it. Supporting new families is a very special role, but not at the cost of your neglecting your own family. Make sure you are fostering your own home life first and foremost.

Hopefully these questions will help you as you consider whether or not you should be a doula. If you’ve thought through the issues thoroughly and feel prepared to jump in, then go for it! Overall, I highly recommend the work. I find that I haven’t experienced anything quite as humbling and beautiful as being able to serve a mama as she brings her child into the world.

My husband’s first taste of a doula’s role.

One response to this post.

  1. Great points! I love being a doula, but being on call can be draining. Due to family schedules I am taking a few months off from doulaing and am loving not being on call. I have already have 2 clients due the end of the summer, but I am enjoying my time off til then. I know I will be refreshed and ready to go again by then.


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