Why Do Birth Workers Need Contracts?


This is a guest post from Emily Flynn of Rosewood Reproductive Health Consulting, find out more about her at the end of the piece

Though it may be true that working with folks in the childbearing year is a calling, it is also a profession and in most cases involves running a small, independent business. Most doulas, birth photographers, lactation consultants, and the like are working as independent contractors or sole proprietors who set their own practice standards and limits and are using this work as a primary source of income rather than as a hobby. In every case, it is essential that there is a solid contract - written NOT verbal - between the birth worker and the clients.


Why? Well, there are lots of reasons.


Firstly, a verbal contract is not a binding contract. Though this field involves being part of an often joyous part of someone’s life and we are providing care and comfort to our clients, that doesn’t mean that unconditional trust should be expected. This is especially true if there is going to be money changing hands. Just agreeing face-to-face or over the phone to a set of terms does not guarantee those terms will or must be met by either party. If the conditions of your arrangement are not in writing then signed and dated, they can be vanished into thin air. You have exactly zero argument for recourse, payment, etc. if nothing is in writing.


Step 1: skip the jargon

Contracts don’t need to be intimidating, long (or particularly short), copied, or drafted in hard copy to understand “legalese.” In fact, it is most beneficial to everyone if they’re written in clear, but plain language. Think about it, if you or your clients can’t understand the contract, who is actually protected? There are definitely things you should leave out of contracts because it’ll sound informal and flighty to include them (leave the “love,” “natural,” and “healing” stuff for your website), but that doesn’t mean you have to invest in a legal dictionary to ensure your practice is protected and you’ll get your money on time.


Step 2: get personal

You get to make your contracts look however you need. There seems to be the impression that doula contracts have to look a certain way, or that it’s not worth personalising the contract you might have gotten from your training organisation (and so few actually provide samples, sadly). You are unlikely to have an identical practice as every other doula trained under your training programme, so your contract shouldn’t only look like theirs. There are so many factors to consider - Do you have children? Will you travel more than an hour away? Do you offer sliding scale? What is your scope of practice? What is your back-up situation? How do you accept payments? Etc.


These documents should be a sense of pride and a representation of the type of birth worker you are. They help present our profession - which is still marginalised in a lot of ways - as being more than a token or status symbol or some sort of luxury accessory. Presenting this document at the start of your relationship with each potential client can help quickly answer questions and save time.



Step 3: set your boundaries

Especially for postpartum overnight doulas, travelling doulas, and nannies, there are certain portions of the contract that can set some healthy limits and expectations around being asked to do more than is appropriate in your practice. I’ve worked with quite a few overnight doulas, many of whom are women of colour, who are regularly asked to add shifts and hours to their already demanding schedules and who came to me to help them work in these boundaries into their official documents. If you don’t want to work holidays, more than 8-hour shifts, and so on, having this in your contract so your clients know this when they sign up is a great way to not feel pressured into doing so. This contract is legally binding and you are not obligated to do more. There are ways to work discentives into having clients try to push your limits or fire you into your contracts, too. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t all work perfectly the first few times. Understanding how to communicate boundaries can be a work in progress.


While those are probably the top reasons to take a deep dive into your contracts and supplemental documents, there are loads more. You live and learn and will shape your materials to look and feel like they suit you best as time goes on. I’ve been a doula for a decade and I still adjust my contract every few months, but I feel confident that I have a solid platform from which to start each connection with my clients. I love having this resource to present right from the interview so that everything is clear, transparent, and covered from the start. It gives me a peace of mind when we all agree to work together and helps me understand my flow of work better through the year.


Bringing this knowledge to other doulas has become a passion project of mine over the past two years. Through my workshops, group presentations, and individual contract drafting and editing sessions, I’ve been able to work with doulas on building confidence in their materials and helped them navigate some really tricky territory. Too many birth workers get burnt out after 2-3 years in this field. I feel positive that having better contracts would help ease anxieties, instruct parents better on what our roles are, and create systems for birth attendants and postpartum providers to have a longer shelf life in this career. Cheers to that!


Em Flynn is a birth and postpartum doula, gentle sleep coach, and doula trainer currently based in Santa Cruz, CA. She started her journey into birth work during her time as a legal researcher in various international non-profits in the US and abroad. Em has a decade of experience as a doula as well as several years as a student midwife. She's helped non-profits turn their volunteer doula programs into paid community health worker positions, help collectives and agencies have solid internal and client-based documents, and currently teaches Infant Sleep Basics for Doulas through Cornerstone Doula Training. She offers private contract editing and drafting in addition to her workshops. Rosewood Reproductive Health Consulting is also a full spectrum well woman/person health consulting firm.

Check out www.rosewoodbirthconsulting.com for more info on my contract services.

Instagram : @rosewoodrepro

Email : doula@rosewoodconsult.com