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How to Pay a Backup Doula So Everyone’s Happy

Knowing how to pay a backup doula is an important part to every successful doula’s business plan. How much is too low or too high? What’s the sweet spot? How can doulas avoid common pitfalls when paying a backup doula? These questions and much more will be addressed in this blog post about how to pay a backup doula. Let’s goooo!

What is a Backup Doula?

A backup doula is a doula that fills-in for a doula if, for whatever reason, the original doula cannot attend part of or the entire birth. The following are common reasons a doula may use a backup doula.

  • Doula’s or family member’s illness
  • Overlapping births
  • Back to back (to back!) births
  • A very long labor
  • Client’s premature delivery
  • Family emergency (e.g. death in the family)
  • Planned unavailability (e.g. conference, wedding, child’s birthday party)

You WILL Use a Backup Doula

Despite our best efforts to provide continuous doula support to our clients, at some point all doulas will need to use a backup doula. Doulas are not super heroes, they’re human, and eventually have to draw a line in the sand somewhere.

Because it’s an inevitability, it’s best to work out the details of a backup plan ahead of time so everyone, doulas and their clients, will rest easy.


When considering a backup doula situation, one must consider the needs and satisfaction of all three parties involved – the 1) original doula, 2) client, and 3) backup doula. If one ain’t happy, trust me, nobody’s happy.

1) Original Doula

The original doula needs a backup doula that is reliable, skillful, and also someone that represents their business/brand well.


It’s important for a backup doula to be reliable. If a backup doula isn’t in the area when she said she would be, her lack of integrity could put you and your client in a bad situation. Find someone who does what they say they’re going to do (i.e. integrity). This is basic human skills 101, but sometimes difficult to find.


I’m not saying backup doulas need to be super-doulas (what even is that?), but it’s important to find a replacement that has a similar level of skill so the client gets what they paid for. Finding someone that has been trained as a doula is a good start. (Never underestimate the new doulas! They’ve got the juice!)


Remember, your backup doula is representing you and your business when they walk into the birthing room. Find a backup doula that has similar views on birth, personality, and professionalism, and you’ve found yourself a keeper.

2) Client

It can be hard for parents when their doula can’t be with them during labor. Having to use a backup doula isn’t ideal, but it’s definitely the next best thing, and significantly better than having no support at all. Having a backup in place is what’s best for parents.

Despite how it sounds, you’d be surprised how quickly backup doulas and their new clients can become fast friends. In my experience, it always seemed to work out as if it were meant to be. Choose a backup doula that can turn a disappointing-for-parents’ plan B into something even better than plan A.

3) Backup Doula

Back to the issue at hand – how to pay a backup doula. One of the best ways to consider the needs and satisfaction of a backup doula is to pay her accordingly.

A backup doula should be promptly and fairly compensated for backup doula services. The peace of mind knowing your client is in good hands has a price. If she feels the amount of the payment wasn’t fair, the odds of her helping you in the future decrease. If it takes weeks or months to be paid (!), she may not answer your call next go-around. (I wouldn’t.)

Knowing how to pay a backup doula is an important part to every successful doula's business plan. How much is too low or too high? What's the sweet spot? How can doulas avoid common pitfalls when paying a backup doula? These questions and much more will be addressed in this blog post about how to pay a backup doula.

Backup Doula Payment Structures

There are many ways to pay a backup doula, and some don’t even require cash. Certain situations may call for one payment structure or the other, or even a combination. Let’s explore all our options and brainstorm what would work best. (My favorite payment structure is listed last.)


Bartering for backup doula services happens when goods and services, like childcare or website design, are exchanged for payment instead of cash. I’ve heard of doulas in partnership backing each other up for births in exchange for childcare the next time the other doula needs to attend a birth, and so on. This type of exchange works if the two doulas trust each other and communicate well, but also perceive the value of each service or goods being exchanged to be equal. I’ve definitely accepted bartering instead of cash payments here and there and have been happy with the results.

PROS: Bartering has the ability to deepen the trust between doulas in a partnership, and also gives the freedom from having to calculate fees and exchange cash.

CONS: Most doulas aren’t interested in bartering and would prefer cash, as you can’t pay rent with an IOU. Also, bartering could be just a one time thing and not a long-term solution. For example, the backup doula does not need website design every time she backs up the original doula. Bartering can also take a long time to be completed, especially if a service, like web design, is being exchanged.

Flat Fee

The most simplistic way to pay a backup doula is to pay a flat fee, agreed upon ahead of time. Some doulas find the flat fee amount by mentally taking a percentage of their original fee or their backup doula’s fee, or a different number altogether.

This arrangement makes sense for the times when a doula hands over a birth to a backup doula, like if she were going out of town for a week around a due date, rather than needing a temporary break, like to go home or teach a childbirth class for a few hours.

PROS: The benefits of the flat fee is that it’s simple and straightforward as there’s no postpartum calculating required. Also, if the backup doula’s normal birth doula fee is similar to the backup doula flat fee, she will likely feel that she is being fairly compensated. A flat fee is a good choice if the original doula wants to keep a portion of her fee.

CONS: The trouble with the flat fee happens when significant time with the client is spent with either the original doula or the backup doula. For example, if there were 20 hours of prenatal, birth, or postpartum support provided by the original doula and 5 hours of birth support provided by the backup doula, the flat fee may feel lopsided, especially if the flat fee is a significant portion of the original fee. Also, another disadvantage of the flat fee is that the original doula may hesitate to ask for help, especially when she needs a break in a long labor. A flat fee can be a hefty fee to pay for taking a break!

Entire Fee

When doulas completely hand over a doula client to a backup doula, some pay their backup doula their entire fee. This makes a lot of sense when minimal time and effort have been spent with the client. If the original doula has completed a prenatal visit, she may deduct $100 (or something that is fair) from the fee, before passing the balance along to the backup doula.

PROS: Paying a backup doula the entire fee is simple, and known prior to the birth without any calculations. This fee may also feel freeing to the original doula, like she’s totally passing this client along and is no longer her responsibility.

CONS: If the original doula’s fee is much lower than the backup doula’s fee, the backup doula may not feel like she is being adequately compensated. Conversely, if the original doula’s fee is much higher than the backup doula’s fee, the original doula may feel like she over paid.

Hourly Rate

Many doulas have found an hourly rate a fair way to pay a backup doula. For example, an original doula may pay a backup doula $50 per hour at 10 hours for a total of $500.

Some doulas use an hourly rate, but cap it at a certain amount, to make sure the original doula is compensated for her time securing the client, prenatal and postpartum meetings, her time at the birth, etc. For example, the original doula pays a backup doula $50 per hour for 12 hours, but still paid her $500 because capped it at $500.

PROS: This method is simple, similar to the flat fee. Both parties know what to expect regarding payment when services are rendered.

CONS: This method can get troublesome if the backup doula is only with the client for a short period of time. For example, if a backup doula was only with the client for 3-4 hours, a payment for $150-$200 may not be worth her time. On the other end of the spectrum, what’s to stop a backup doula from leaving when she gets to the capped amount? For example, a doula earning an hourly rate with a cap at $500, may not be motivated to stay after the 10 hour mark. Most doulas wouldn’t leave ;), so the more likely scenario is that she would feel like she wasn’t paid fairly.

% of Hours

The % of hours method of paying a backup doula is probably the most complicated, but in my experience, the most fair. This method considers the total number of hours spent with the client and then figures out percentage of hours the original and backup doulas spent with the client respectively.

For example, the original doula spent 5 total hours with the client with prenatal visits, phone and text support, and a postpartum visit. The backup doula spent 15 total hours with the client at the birth and a the postpartum visit (both doulas decided to go to the postpartum visit). The client received 20 total hours of doula support. The original doula spent 5 of those 20 hours with the client, or 1/4 or 25%. The backup doula spent 15 of those 20 hours with the client, or 3/4 or 75%. Therefore, the original doula should receive 25% of the fee and the backup doula should receive 75% of the fee.

PROS: If the original doula and backup doula charge similar fees, both parties will be fairly compensated for their time – prenatal, birth, and postpartum – even if one of them wasn’t able to attend the birth.

CONS: If the original doula and the backup doula have wildly different fees, one or both may feel like things were unfair.

For example, if the original doula normally charges $2000 and is with the client 25% of the total time and the backup doula normally charges $500 and is with the client 75% of the time, the original doula would get paid $500 (which is significantly lower than $2000) and the backup doula would get paid $1500 (which is quite a bit more than her regular fee).

Frequently Asked Questions

Payment for Being On-Call

Question: If a doula requests a backup doula to be “on call” but never ends up calling her, should the backup doula be compensated?

Answer: As someone that backs up doulas occasionally, here’s my take on paying someone to be “on-call”. If my life is 100% unaffected by being “on call” I don’t charge anyone for my time. For example, if my kids aren’t with me anyways and I have no plans to go anywhere, I’m fine with being on call and not getting paid. I’m happy to go about my life as usual and give my fellow doulas some peace of mind. It’s fun to offer that to my colleagues for free!

However, if I have to make arrangements for potential childcare or adjust my life in anyway, I would want to be compensated. Remember, compensation doesn’t have to be cash money, it could be as simple as bartering. Perhaps “payment” could be she returns the favor down the road. Win-win!

Payment for Prenatal and/or Postpartum Visits

Question: If a doula requests a backup doula to come to a prenatal or postpartum visit, should the backup doula be compensated?

Answer: The short answer is yes, backup doulas should be paid when they go to a prenatal or postpartum visit.

Once upon a time I took a doula client during a time when my availability was terrible and my ability to get spontaneous childcare was almost non-existent. To relive my anxiety (IYKYK), I paid a backup doula $100 to be “on-call” for me, but to also come to the prenatal appointment as I thought there was a good chance I couldn’t be there for at least part of the birth. I was happy to pay that fee because it increased my peace but also compensated my backup doula for her time. (FYI I made it to the birth and didn’t need to use a backup doula. Yay!)

Choosing a Payment Structure

Question: Who chooses the backup doula payment structure, the original doula or the backup doula?

Answer: Typically, the original doula chooses the payment structure for backup doula services. However, the doula with the most leverage could also choose the payment structure. This may sound silly, but it all comes down to economics. If the original doula has many backup doula options, for example there may be lots of local doulas looking for work/experience, the backup doulas will probably take what they can get on the original doula’s terms. Conversely, if a backup doula has plenty of work, or needs to make the opportunity worth her while to move forward, she certainly can state her terms too. Hopefully, both parties come to an arrangement that’s fair and everyone’s happy.

When to Pay

Question: When should backup doulas be paid?

Answer: Backup doulas should be paid as soon as possible! Pay your backup doula immediately following the birth, but no later than that first postpartum visit, assuming it’s within the first week. Communicate openly about when your backup doula can expect payment and never make them reach out to you to get paid. It is bad business to delay paying your backup doula!

How to Pay a Backup Doula So Everyone’s Happy

At some point, every doula will utilize a backup doula and knowing how to pay a backup doula is an important part of every business plan. Doulas may choose to barter, pay a flat fee, the entire fee, an hourly rate, a percentage of the fee, or somewhere in between.

Leave a Comment

How do you pay a backup doula? What’s your M.O.? What’s worked and what hasn’t worked? Please leave a comment so we can all learn from each other!