Work + Life Balance: Business Tips For Avoiding Doula Burnout

We almost called this blog “Mastering work/life balance,” but who are we kidding? In our fast-paced world of near 24/7 communication, there’s no such thing as achieving a perfect balance. When people write or speak about this elusive work/life balance generically, the most common solution is to stay organized.

That’s worthy advice, but top-notch personal and professional organization can only go so far when we’re looking at work/life balance through the lens of a birth doula, work that at its very foundation means you’re prioritizing someone else (your client) at a very unpredictable, anything-goes period of time in their lives. You’re not working a standard 9-to-5, where you’ve got at least some structure to your days and you know when you’ll be leaving for work and getting back home, when you can have that glass of wine, and when you go enjoy time with your own family.

You know what you’re working with as a birth or postpartum doula, and that is being comfortable and confident in the fact that you don’t know exactly what you’re working with. Or at least when.

(While postpartum doulas have a bit more scheduling flexibility, they also don’t know for sure when the baby will be born.)

Acknowledging the unique nature of birth work, here are some tips on structuring your doula business to ride the uncertain and avoid excessive fatigue or complete burn-out:

Divide Your Year Into Your Busy/Off Season

Think big picture. Think seasons. You don’t want to be high-alert all year.

Decide on certain months of the year that will be your busiest (i.e. you’re on call for “x” amount of clients for “x” amount of months), and then commit to allowing yourself an “off season.”

Being on call one month and taking several clients is ultimately better than being on call all month, each month, for one client at a time. Take a month or two completely “off call” somewhere in the year, and be open to booking last-minute births to make up for the time off.

And the off season doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not working; it’s not a vacation (unless you can figure out a way to make it so, by all means!). Depending on your other skills and creativity, you can fill the months of your off season with fewer clients and supplement your income with other (related or non-related) work that isn’t as demanding as being on call.

This is a great organizational tactic to consider whether you’re just now getting into doula work or reaching a point where you feel the need to switch up your existing schedule to allow yourself for a breather throughout the year. Going into 2018 is a great time to put thought into this, but remember: You don’t need a start of a new year to implement change!

Sharing Call: Two’s Company

Consider partnering up to divvy up the pressure of constantly being on call!

We’ve got an online course called The Backup Plan that will answer any questions you may have about setting up a back-up agreement with another doula, communicating this agreement to your client, and building a sustainable doula practice.

One of the best things about doula work is the intimate relationships fostered. We’re all pursuing work that speaks to our hearts, and that leads to a strong DTI community, locally and nationally. And yet, we’ve all got our own styles and price structuring. The idea of trying to fuse forces, finding a doula partner that matches your style and dividing the work so that both of you are equally trusted by your client and fairly compensated, can seem daunting.

But the reward of a more flexible schedule is not only enticing, it’s necessary for some doulas.

So how can you successfully collaborate with a partner?

Give yourselves ample foresight to know what you’re getting into. Make sure there’s set work that you’re committing to do together, like attending prenatal meetings. Make sure your client knows it could be either of you attending the birth (i.e. sharing call). Talk about money early, and check in if you’re feeling confused or uncertain about how things are going.

Be Honest With Yourself & Your Client By Communicating Your Limitations

While this is more of a general reminder than a tangible strategy, it is arguably the most important thing to remember.

What does “communicating your limitations” look like in practice? This could mean being open about an upcoming weekend or day(s) that you won’t be available in the initial interview and recommending a trusted back-up doula for that time period.

Postpartum doulas can take the lead by establishing availability (instead of being at the whim of the parents) as soon as the baby arrives.

Being honest with yourself also means checking in with yourself about personal and professional goals. If you’re taking on clients at an unsustainable speed and not taking the time to take care of yourself, something’s gonna give. If the idea of taking on less clients or splitting income with another doula causes you to hesitate, remember that burning out has the potential of being much more costly.

And after all, this is supposed to be work that you enjoy, work that you love! Stress is inherent in any field of work, but it should never reach a debilitating point.

If you’re reading this prior to certifying with DTI as a doula through one of our online trainings or upcoming in-person trainings in Austin, TXBrooklyn, NYC; or Washington, DC; don’t fret! Our community will be there every step along the way of your doula journey, through the stresses and successes.