Should you work for free until you are certified?

First, let’s get one thing straight:

New Doulas Don't Have to Work for Free!

When you work for free, you tell people that your work is worthless, and that’s exactly how they treat you.

Lots of people will tell you to work for free, that it is a fantastic way to get those certification births. But they DO NOT GET IT. They are just thinking “everyone loves FREE!!!!! So it will be easy to get those births!” but the truth is, it simply doesn’t work that way.

I’ve been attending births since 1999. I’ve seen dozens of people try to break into the doula business by offering freebies, and the vast majority of the time they either get burned, or they get burned out. Sure, there are times when it works out, but most of the time either they never get the call, they get people who are rude, or the parents demand more than is being offered. In another common scenario, the doula’s family starts to complain about the time and resources devoted to the birth with nothing in return. It costs money and resources to provide doula services, and the doula’s family budget should not be burdened in order to provide services. Especially given the time away from family and the sacrifices involved in that.

Don't Get Burned - or Burned Out!It just doesn’t work out. You need to value your work before anyone else does!

I have never, ever done a birth for free. Even my very first doula birth, I charged $200 when the going rate was $400. I increased it by $50 every birth until I was at the going rate, and most years I’ve upped it another $50 a year. I’m at $750 for doula births now.
I’ve done discounted when I felt moved to do so. Sometimes quite a bit discounted. I’ve done barter a time or two as well. But never, ever for free.
I am not saying you have to charge full price, but for goodness sake, COVER YOUR EXPENSES. Charge enough to cover gas, parking, childcare, handouts you give to clients, etc.
When the expectant parents have covered your expenses, they become financially invested in having you there. They are more likely to actually call in labor. It also often makes the parents treat you better, because they know you value your services.

And finally, you don’t want to be building a reputation as “the doula who will do it for free if you ask.” That can be a very tough reputation to overcome when every friend, cousin, neighbor and acquaintance of your former clients calls expecting you to work for free.

Charity doula work has its place. Not everyone can pay for a doula, and that’s OK. Your doula work is valuable. It has worth. Be confident in telling people what you charge!

Photo illustration based on this image by Steve Velo. Adapted under a Creative Commons license.