Are you looking for a cheap doula?

Written by Christine Strain

TheFeministBreeder posted this great blog about doulas the other day about her initial impression of what a doula was, and how that changed when she met the doula for her second birth.

I was reading and nodding along, especially when I read this line:

“I realized not only that doulas are real professionals with real skills, but many of them weren’t at all what I had pictured in my mind.”

Later in the post she mentions cost, though. And she offers up advice that I have seen (and even given myself, in the past) on many email lists and message boards:

“So now you know WHY you should hire a doula, but maybe you think you can’t afford it. Not true! There’s a doula for every budget. Check into community-run doula programs or volunteer programs. Ask local childbirth educators if they know any doulas who are in the process of certifying – they may work for free or at a minimal cost. Many highly experienced doulas even work on a sliding scale or a payment plan. In most cases, you just have to ask.”

Indeed, one of the big doula certifying organizations even has community service doula work as a part of their Code of Ethics:

“Community Service
The doula is encouraged to assist the DONA International vision of ‘A Doula For Every Woman Who Wants One’ by making reduced cost or no cost labor support services available when possible.”

But does this mean that every woman should have a low cost or free doula? Think about a food bank – that food is there donated by those who have more, to help those who have less. Would you go to a food bank to get free food if you really didn’t NEED free food? Would you go just because maybe there are other things you would rather buy than food right now, even though you have the money? For most people, the answer is probably “no”. Yet more and more I am seeing women say that they want a doula, but they don’t want to pay full price.

If you are considering hiring a doula, think about the reasons why. Women who have doula assistance at their births have lower rates of interventions and cesareans, and higher rates of natural birth (if that is what they desire – doulas aren’t only for women who want natural births). Ask women who have given birth with a doula how they feel about it and you will hear things like “at that moment we would have paid her double her fee” or “she was worth every penny” or “she was worth her weight in gold”.

There are many items in the course of a lifetime that people will budget for, but a doula isn’t always high on the list. The average cost of a wedding cake is $543. Is a doula worth as much as a wedding cake? I would say much, much more. During pregnancy a doula is there to answer questions, point you to resources, and acknowledge and calm the fears and stresses that can accompany the end of pregnancy. In labor, your doula offers comfort techniques, both physical and mental, as well as information to help navigate the choices that you will face and help you achieve the best possible outcome and experience.

When a doula goes “on call” for your birth, she is saying that for several weeks, she is willing to drop anything at a moment’s notice to come to your birth. That includes everything from not planning vacations during that time, being willing to leave a family event, or even being interrupted during an intimate moment. Every night your doula checks her phone to make sure it’s on and charged, maybe even calls it to make sure it’s working (not that I have ever done that…). She finds a skilled peer to act as backup in case an illness or emergency mean that she has to miss your birth, and if she has kids, she puts together lists of people who can watch her children on short notice.

So when you think about hiring a doula, and you think about how much you are willing to pay, think about all of that too. Yes, there are doulas who are willing to work for a lower fee, or donate births. But remember that “doulas are real professionals with real skills” and they deserve to be paid for the work that they do!

If you really truly cannot afford a doula, there are definitely avenues of help available to you. For more information on how to find a certifying doula, contact the Georgia Birth Network.

Christine Strain is a mother of three, birth activist, and doula. She is excited to be training as a Baby Steps educator later this year. After her first birth ended in cesarean, she joined ICAN to help prepare for her future births (both VBACs) and found a passion for helping other women have empowered birth experiences. She serves in leadership roles for both the Atlanta chapter and the international Board of Directors of ICAN. You can visit her website at