How a Doula Does Money

The business of birth from the perspective of a doula.

Photo: Wendy Kenin

In a recent article for BuzzFeed, Katie J.M. Baker explored the world of ProDoula, a group working to increase the amount of money doulas make and turn a traditionally selfless profession into a real revenue-generating field that targets high-paying clientele.

The doula world is clearly split on this proposal, with some who loathe the idea that underprivileged women will be priced out of affording a doula, and the ProDoula faction resenting the idea that “everyone deserves a doula.” What surprised me about the article, however, was that many doulas are underpaid — with some not even getting paid at all. So I reached out to Renea Capozzi, a Los Angeles-based doula and the owner of Urban Village Birth Services, to explore the financial realities of being a doula, including getting certified, marketing yourself and competing with other doulas in an increasingly saturated market.

What drew you to being a doula?

I guess I started out when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I was looking for, at the time, a birth education class that kind of matched … what I thought about birth. I ended up going to a Bradley Method class and had an awesome teacher. … I had my first birth experience with my daughter, that was completely unmedicated, and I was like, I need to kind of show people that this is something that’s possible. So I kind of set out originally on my journey of being a birth educator, but didn’t do it right away because of the costs.

How much does it cost to get certified as a doula?

I would say, depending on the certifying group — I know with DONA [Doulas of North America], they want you to be a member, they want you to also get their pack … you have to complete, so that’s buying books … attending a training. The training is probably between $500–700. Then certifying you have … the membership, the cost for the certification, you pay to basically provide all of your documentation of training that you’ve taken … so I would say, on average, a person looking to certify will spend around $2,000 to get certified.

What do you do after you’re certified?

People cross-certify with different groups and there are also additional things you can get. So when you get your doula certification, you’ve gone through intensive training, you’ve potentially helped a couple of people depending on what kind of doula you’re going to be. A lot of the time … you’re getting paid little to nothing. And then you start thinking about marketing and getting yourself out there. … So you add the marketing aspect into it, and depending what route you take, it could be advertisements — which could be $200-$300 in a magazine somewhere.

There are also registries that are out there that will place people on registries and get the inquiries. There are fees that are associated with getting those, because the registries are taking a portion. … I know when I first started, I probably spent about $3,500, just getting started.

So that $3,500 was just toward marketing, or altogether?

Altogether. Getting marketing materials, going to networking events, getting the supplies I needed to work as a doula. … Then you have your ongoing expenses, like keeping up with your cards, marketing materials and additional training. Being a doula, you cover certain areas and avenues of work that you do for your clients, but there’s also a lot outside of those areas. So doulas will sometimes also become a lactation educator or they’ll do water birth certifications. They’ll do a lot of different things based on what kind of doula they want to be and how they want to support their clients.

Going back to the registries you mentioned, you said they take a certain percentage. How much do they usually take?

The range of what a doula costs can be a couple hundred dollars all the way to what I hear is $2,500 or more sometimes. So if you’re part of this registry, depending what your fees are, they’ll charge you depending on your fees. I’ve heard 20 percent, I’ve heard 15 percent.

So it’s better to work independently?

It is. I know a lot of people do registries because they’re trying to stay afloat in the sense that a good portion of the people — and I think the population of doulas now is very vast, everyone is trying to be a doula — are trying to make a living doing this and doing this on their own. Until you really get going, you don’t have the word of mouth or repeat clients, [so] sometimes I think the newer doulas are okay with being on the registries because they will get the work.

… I belong to DASC — Doulas Association of Southern California — and one of the ladies on there runs a registry of sorts when she’s not available, she kind of sends out [clients] to other people, but she charges 15 percent. So, you know, it’s one of those things where you either have to add it on top of everything or take it out of what you’re getting.

How do doulas get paid typically? Is it per hour, or a lump sum?

Most doulas charge a flat rate, so sometimes it works out that you have a mom whose body works well and labor goes great and you’re there for maybe 6–8 hours. But the averages are that, the mom who has nothing going on with her and has no inductions, it’s going to be somewhere between 24–36 hours. And that’s working with them, helping them understand the process of their birth, going out to them and working with them in person, helping them through labor and [to] do whatever they need to do before they go to their facility. And even sometimes after that, helping with breastfeeding usually and making sure they’re all settled. We could potentially be working with them for 2–3 days, sometimes longer. And so all that money you’re charging is going to all those hours and sometimes you look at some of the births and you go, ‘oh gosh, I probably got paid $15 an hour for that one.’

How much do you charge for your services?

Right now, I’m at $1,200. I’m pretty much available [to clients] all the time.

How many clients do you typically have at a time?

What I find the average for most doulas is, they’ll take on 2–3 clients a month. For me, I was taking on 5–6 clients.

Where do you fall on the idea that everybody should have a doula versus seeing it as a business?

I believe everyone should have a doula. But I do know that at some point I had to start valuing what I did more. … Over time, I’ve gradually increased my rates due to the number of births I’ve attended, my background, my skillset, my other certifications. I’ve been a doula for about eight years now and even for what I charge now, people who charge more than me are like, ‘you need to be at this level where I’m at.’ For me, I think it’s just a comfort level that I stay lower than what I should be.

Do most doulas do this as a side job, or full-time work?

I know when I started, I was working a regular corporate job.

When did it become a full-time job for you?

I would say probably two years ago. I kept teetering back and forth with the stability of a corporate job and the income, knowing it would be there versus not knowing. There’s a lot of flux in the doula world. Some days you’re doing really well, and other times you’re like, ‘wow, there’s nothing there.’ The past two years I’ve done really well, [but] the last two weeks, I was looking at my calendar and realized no one has hired me … [for]February to May.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

For me, I’ll probably stay where I’m at right now, until I finish midwifery school and sit for my licensure. You know, it’ll be something I’ll continue to do. Because this is my business now, and my sole business.

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