Building Your Birth Business: Setting Your Birthwork Rates

Written by: Jess Kimball

Setting Your Rates

There is a long history of caregiving careers being deemed low-wage careers. We feel that inside ourselves and even when we know we deserve better we still struggle to own our worth and charge what we deserve. Each time we charge someone an unnecessarily low rate we tell the world that this is okay and that our services and care are not worth paying for.

For birth services, rates can range anywhere from $400 to $3,000. Postpartum care typically ranges from $25 – $75 per hour. Oftentimes doulas will charge a lower rate or offer free services when they first become certified or are obtaining experience to become certified. This is a sign of imposter syndrome.

When setting your rates it is important to consider what other doulas in your area charge. When you charge a much lower rate than the other doulas it can lead to people in the community thinking the service is not worth as much as other doulas are charging. If you want to support birthwork in your community, charge a reasonable rate.

You can use sites like Doula Match to see the rates other doulas charge, or you can connect with local doulas in an effort to network and ask them directly. Ask them in a way where they can see how your question benefits them. Tell them that you want to support their business and what they charge by not charging a much lower rate. Learn from them while also building a connection. There can be a lot of competition in the birth world. It may not be best to ask just any doula this question, but as you network with doulas and find ones that you connect with, want to refer clients you can’t take on to, or have a backup agreement with…those are the ones you can open up with about rates and business management questions. Those doula friends and colleagues of sorts are good to have.

Consider This: Imposter syndrome impacts how much you charge and speeds up burnout!

Imposter syndrome is when you don’t feel good enough and become scared to put yourself out there or charge what you are really worth.

This leads to doulas charging lower rates because they undermine their own experience and training, but the truth is if you are at the point in the certification process that you are attending births you have an education and training that offers great support to families and you deserve to charge for that.

Do not let imposter syndrome keep you from making a profit. Consider how much it actually costs to be a doula.

Expenses to Consider:

  • Licensure
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Childcare
  • Gas
  • Equipment (TENS unit, rebozo, birth ball, scrubs, etc)
  • Office Supplies
  • Continuing Ed
  • Operating Costs: Admin work, marketing, sending contracts and invoices, initial consultations, etc.

Other Considerations:

  • The current IRS allowance is 62.5 cents per mile. If you drive 15 miles one way to a client’s home, and you offer two home visits, support in labor, and a postpartum visit, that’s 120 miles you’ve driven for one client, for an expense of $75.
  • Calculate any miles you may travel to doula meetings or birth support groups. Divide that up per client/per month.
  • Some doulas will set a flat rate for birth coverage, but some max out at 12-15 hours of coverage. After that, they call a backup or take a break and return to the birth later. This can also reduce your take-home pay because you have to pay a backup or increase mileage expenses driving back and forth. These are costs to consider when setting your rate.
  • They may charge an additional rate for care provided after 12-15 hours of care. Typically $30 – $50 per additional hour. This fee structure allows a doula to be fairly compensated for longer births, and it covers associated costs involved like a backup doula.
  • Shorter labors will compensate for longer labors, and will even out to your average hourly rate. Some births may only require 10 hours of labor attendance and result in an hourly rate of $75 per hour while other may require 30 hours and result in a rate of $25 per hour. When you take on a full client load each month this balances out, but it is something to consider. Would you rather max our labor care at 12 hours in your birth contract and then charge an additional hourly rate for care provided after that?
  • Consider intangible costs like continuously being on call, missing birthdays, vacations, weddings, and being up all night, sometimes for multiple days. It takes a physical and emotional toll, so make sure you are compensated accordingly.
  • I include a few breaks in my birth contract so that I can rest and provide adequate care. This results in less need for calling a backup. It also works out to where the 15-hour mark is not actually 15 hours of labor. If I take breaks in early labor the majority of that 15-hour shift is later in labor so my client does not have to pay an additional amount for more than 15 hours of coverage. This may not work for every doula, but it is a balance that works well for me.

Throughout the first year of business, your rates might change quite a bit. When I started out I worked with an agency. They charged $25 per hour but paid me $18. Eventually, I booked enough clients privately and left the agency. I charged $25-$28 privately, but then I relocated to an area where my doula rate matched a date night babysitter rate so I increased it to $35. Three years later I offered more services for my clients, had a higher operating cost, and expanded my education quite a bit so my rate increased to $50 per hour. I also had to take into account that most of my clients were 45+ minutes from me. With high gas prices post-pandemic and long commutes, a higher rate made sense to me and it made sense to my clients too.

Years ago I would have felt like a complete imposter charging such a high rate, but the past few years of providing care have taught me that the cost of operating my business, my experience, and my location make this fee extremely reasonable. Consider changing your rate after you have completed a new training or certification, you have hit a milestone such as 100 births or 3 years as a doula, your cost of living increases, or business operating costs have increased.

Next week are going to talk about setting up payment options that keep your income stream steady, but allow for a more accessible payment model for your clients!

At Global Foundation for Girls (GFG), we are active thought partners, serving global communities of birthing persons in order to advance and support the advocacy movement. Our networks serve Black and brown girls (trans or cis) and gender-diverse youth survivors of sexual violence, retributive (corrective) violence, assault, obstetric violence, birth injustice, discrimination, or disenfranchisement due to their gender, race, sexual orientation, gender expression, faith, ability, or other identity markers. This demographic likely includes youth from low-income neighborhoods and varying language skills and immigration statuses. Our team is made up of birth advocates, many of which are birthworkers, from all over the world.

Jess Kimball, AS, CLC, CD, PCD, PMH-C