The Doula Industry Is Changing Rapidly

Each pregnancy is different and every birth is unique. How to handle it all, that’s up to the mother-to-be. Some expectant mothers rely solely on doctors and medical professionals to educate them on the experience, others dive into research and literature that can help them prepare for the big day, and an increasing number of American women now employ a doula — also known as a birth companion and post-birth supporter. Almost anyone could be a pregnant woman's doula and each of their services can vary, but most professional doulas go through a certification process — some can set you back thousands — and can make a career out of emotionally supporting women as they go the life-changing event of childbirth. So, how much money do doulas make? The profession appears to be at a crossroads, so that figure will greatly depend on which route the doula takes: Providing doula care to everyone — even if that means at no cost — or treating the service like a business and charging a fee accordingly.

Here's how it works: Doulas essentially get paid per birth, so the position doesn’t necessarily bring home a steady salary. Therefore, how much a doula makes largely depends on their location, the number of clients they have, the services they provide, and the hours they are contracted to work. According to doula certification agency ProDoula, sometimes doulas charge nothing for their services, but most professionals can charge a rate somewhere between $800 - $2,000 per birth.

To put it in salary terms, in the United States a "full-time" doula salary is reportedly somewhere between $15,000-$30,000 a year," according (yes, that's a real site). So, it's not exactly the most profitable or reliable profession, unless you get really, really lucky.

Today, how one goes about making a living as a doula — which comes from the Greek word for "women’s servant" — is hard to pinpoint, as the industry is rapidly changing, according a new BuzzFeed story which explored the a divide within the doula community.

Almost anyone can agree that people should be paid for their time and their services, and in the past few year, some doula-training companies, like ProDoula — which claims to have made $1.25 million last year, according to BuzzFeed — want to make a profit from them by revamping the industry and encouraging doulas and treat it as a "luxury service," as BuzzFeed’s Katie J.M. Baker reported.

But not everyone in the profession agrees with the business model. This is because, traditionally, doulas have been encouraged to offer free or low-cost services to expectant mothers who can’t afford them. Many in the industry believe it's an expectant mother's fundamental right to have an advocate there when she needs one, even if she can't afford to pay a high fee for it.

"The doula movement was founded on the needs of the woman," Penny Simkin, who is the co-founder of doula-certifying organization DONA International, told BuzzFeed, adding that ProDoula’s business strategy to charge doulas-in-training high fees for certification courses "will do nothing for improving birth in this country ... and only improve [the doulas'] pocketbooks."

There is still much to be seen when it comes the future of the industry, so it could be the norm for doulas to earn a six-figure income one day or the rate could stay the same. But, whichever route a doula decides to take, they have to be passionate about the profession and invested — emotionally and financially — in the birth experience.