Self Care for Doulas

beach feet

We can talk about self care for anyone but this is specifically for birth workers. I think it is imperative to discuss a few things to insure doulas stay healthy- and in fact these things are for any birth professional.

  • Nurturers- self care is not selfish
  • Choosing clients carefully
  • Reliable back ups in place
  • Bodywork before and after
  • During the labor itself- taking care of self
  • Good body mechanics- how to protect your body
  • Timing of clients
  • Priorities

Nurturers- self care is not selfish

Since we are usually in the mode of helping others, sometimes we fail to stop and let someone take care of us! I raised my fee a few years ago specifically to pay for massage and body work after a birth. I love it when a mom has had a really long or difficult for me- as in a lot of hands on holding, pulling, pushing and hip squeezing and I get offered a tip to do this with specifically.  In order to take care of others, we must take care of ourselves.

Choosing clients carefully

If someone does not seem like a good fit or will need more attention than you can offer, pass on the client to someone else. Having someone who will demand more than you can offer or is not a compatible client  is not of benefit to you or them.

Reliable back ups in place

In our group we have back up built into our agreement- we back each other up. I have used one person who used to be with our company once when a mom was having a precipitous birth and I needed someone closer to meet her until I got there within the hour and in time for the birth, but I knew she would need someone with her when she arrived since things were happening quickly. I always stand amazed when I see doulas have a conflict and they are clammering at finding a back up on facebook or elsewhere. Back ups should be in place at all times. It is difficult to be on call for more than one- or shoot even with one client and not have a great back up system in place. It is also not stressful for the doula but it is unfair to the client who is counting on support for her labor.

Bodywork before and after

This goes to my first point. Chiropractors, massage therapist, fascia and other body workers are essential. I go to my acupuncturist quarterly to keep myself healthy. My chiropractor and body workers see me much more often. Keeping your body fine tuned helps keep the machine working!

During the labor itself- taking care of self

I developed sialadenitis once from a long labor and forgetting to keep myself hydrated. Antibiotic, a CAT scan and a lot of pain later taught me to make sure I keep drinking during labors. Bringing healthy snacks and nutrition is also important for both you and your client. And simple things like making sure you are stepping out to use the toilet and get an emotional change of scenery for a minute or two is also healthy.

Good body mechanics- how to protect your body

Knowing how to shift your weight- use your legs and body weight instead of your back and shoulders, are just one of may things you should learn to do to protect yourself. When I first became a doula I felt I needed to keep my hands on the mom and most of the time stay upright. But now I realize that being too hands on when the mom is not requesting it, tires not only the doula out but does not allow the mom to have the non interventional freedom in her labor to move and listen to her body. Sitting by close and ready is not only better for her but also for the doula. When you are doing physical support, be smart about how you offer it so as to not injure yourself.

Timing of clients

Every doula gets to decide what works for her family in regards to taking clients. Taking first time moms and VBAC moms may take more time than repeat clients. Taking clients close to each others due dates does not necessarily mean a problem with overlapping. But taking several during the same time does mean you may be doing births back to back without much rest. And a non rested doula does not make the best doula. A really busy doula may help her make her finances work well but may not be in the best interest for her clients who may feel slighted. What is the right number? Who knows- every doula and every situation is different. If you have a lot of moms who want to labor at home without a doula before heading in, or have clients who plan to get induced or get an epidural, those clients may be different than the mom who wants labor support at home and plans for a pain medication free birth. But you will find the number that works for you. In our group, usually 2-4 clients a month is a good number to keep from burning the doula out.


Everyone is different in this aspect too. If you have small children, a difficult support system or one that depends on you to be a primary care provider for your children, it may be stressful being away too often or for too long. When you are gone for hours or even days and need to come home to crash- it is difficult if everything is hinging on your return. Missing holidays and special occasions make this work stressful. So, make sure you are setting aside times to be off call to have some time for special events and time with your family. If a holiday is too important to head out in the middle of it to a birth, do not take clients during this time. Take some time off to celebrate life! And be careful joining this work when your babies are small. They are only small for a short while and this work is difficult on families. Keep your priorities clear and strong.