10 Things Successful Doulas Do

Recently I blogged about the Top 10 Mistakes New Doulas Make – this week I’m countering with a top ten list of things you should do if you want to be successful in your doula practice.
1. They value themselves Successful doulas know that their work is valuable, and have confidence in their work. If you’re not there yet, take a technique you might use with moms and write some business affirmations for yourself. List the talents, skills and personality traits that you bring to a birth and review that list often! Along the same lines, successful doulas will be OK with letting a potential client go if that person’s needs, expectations or budget are not a good match.

2. They pursue continuing education There is *always* something more to learn. Continuously learning and growing can help avoid burnout. Local conferences like the Utah Doula Association, Perinatal Professionals, the Midwives College of Utah etc. are affordable options for continuing education, or budget and price so that you can attend a large national conference like DONA, CAPPA or Lamaze.

3. They build relationships with all kinds of professionals From home birth midwives to OBs to massage therapists to labor and delivery nurses, doulas who connect and learn from other professionals build a stronger base. Sure, referrals from those people will help business, but building real friendships and understanding is even more valuable. Understanding the ethical dilemmas and conflicting pressures labor and delivery nurses face has helped me to better help my clients understand and communicate with the staff when I attend hospital births.

4. They maintain boundaries Burnout is rampant, and some people will take so much from you that you feel what is sometimes called “Compassion fatigue” – know that you can tell a client no. As a doula, you don’t need to attend every prenatal visit, do unlimited prenatals, and stop by every day postpartum for three weeks. Decide what’s included in your fee and stick to it. Decide on a price for any additional visits or work, and only do them if you want to. Ask clients to keep non-labor calls to normal business hours so you are not disturbed in the middle of the night any more often than necessary. Some clients will ask you to do things completely unrelated to doula work, and you need to be able to say no. I’ve heard of doulas being asked for things like rides to the grocery store, babysitting while the parents went on a date, or taking dirty laundry home and returning it clean. Having a contract that clearly outlines what is and is not included in your doula services goes a long way in establishing clear boundaries.

5. They don’t care about the client’s birth more than the client does. Some clients are all talk but no action. If your client isn’t doing anything to get the birth she wants, you simply cannot put in more effort, more time, and especially not invest more emotional energy into your client’s birth than she does. That’s a recipe for a hard crash for the doula.

6. They respect other viewpoints Successful doulas work hard to build a collaborative approach with staff and providers rather than viewing them as the enemy. Building a sense of “Us vs. Them” with your clients does not serve anyone well, and does not increase the chances of your client having a good birth experience. The other professionals you work with come to the birth with a different (and not necessarily bad) set of values, beliefs, ethical and employer pressures, etc.

7. They refer out Successful doulas do not overbook themselves. When they reach their client load, they refer to other doulas. Successful doulas refer things out of their scope to appropriate providers. They do not take on roles or responsibilities outside their scope. “You know who could better help you with that?” or “That’s a tricky situation, you should discuss that with your (other birth professional)” are good ways to make referrals.

8. They return phone calls, texts and emails I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked a client who else they were interviewing and they have replied “We’re glad we like you, because no one else even answered our emails!” Even if you cannot take on a person who inquires about your services, please be in the habit of responding, ideally within 24 hours. I generally respond to an inquiry the same way they contacted me. If they call, I call back. If they email, I respond by email, etc. I assume parents are contacting me in the way they feel most comfortable, and I reach out to them the same way.

9. They take care of themselves Burnout is HUGE in the doula community. Don’t fall victim to it. Learn what kinds of self-care work for you, and DO THEM. I remember well the first time I left my kids at the baby sitters and went home to sleep for four hours before picking them up. I felt guilt, tremendous guilt, before I went to sleep. But when I picked them up feeling refreshed and able to be an involved mom later that day, the guilt was gone. This also applies to when you are at the birth. Labor support does not have to be so continuous that you can’t go empty your bladder or go eat. Time those breaks well and keep them short, but do take them!

10. They keep perspective and balance It’s easy to become all consumed in a new passion. Especially one as emotionally fulfilling as doula work. Find the balance between family and work that is best for you and your family. It’s different for everyone. Stay conscious of how the demands of doula work are impacting your family. Remember that birth work is not about you – it is centered on the family you are serving.

and a bonus one!

11. They connect with other doulas privately for peer review and support. Every doula who has been to births for any length of time has had a birth that was tough to process, or has faced a quandary they are unsure how to handle. Fellow doulas can be a great resource for this kind of thing. I personally am uncomfortable with posting online for this kind of thing, as you never know who might see it and recognize it. I’ve had a few former clients go on to become doulas and join the same private local doula group I participate in. I’d be mortified if someone came across an old post discussing her birth! As you network and make friends in the doula community, find someone who you can trust to be a colleague you can call for processing, support, and to bounce ideas around when you don’t know what to do.

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