A great contract is a helpful tool in any business relationship. It lays out expectations for everyone, and it can help protect you if there are ever questions or misunderstandings. Birth doulas often expand and improve their contracts over time as the doula runs into new situations or challenges with clients. Here are some elements to consider as you put together your rock-solid agreement.
What doulas do and don't do. Most doula contracts include a basic overview of our scope of practice. I prefer bulleted lists of things that are provided (emotional and physical support, books and resources, discussion of options, timeline or birth story) and things that are not part of doula services (medical tasks such as blood pressure or vaginal exams, speaking for the woman, decision-making). This helps your clients understand what they're getting when they hire you.
Your package and fees. How many prenatal visits do you offer? When will you come in labor and how long do you stay? Are you willing to labor with them at home or do you only meet clients at their birth place? What kind of postpartum care is included? Are there special extras you offer? This can be a quick bulleted list of items, followed by the total fees for your services and when they are due. Most doulas ask for half of their fee at contract signing (non-refundable retainer fee) and half by 36 - 38 weeks. Collecting the balance before the birth helps ensure you'll be paid and takes away the awkwardness of asking for money when you would otherwise be processing the birth and admiring the baby. If you collect the final payment after the birth you risk not being paid in unusual situations, but some doulas find that they often receive a "tip" when they collect the balance at a postpartum visit.
Details of being on call and getting to the birth. When does your 24/7 on-call time begin for this family? (A common timeframe for being on call is 38 – 42+ weeks, but a small percentage of doulas consider themselves on call as soon as they are hired.) How should they contact you when they are in labor? (If you prefer a phone call, specify in the contract that texting and Facebook messages are not acceptable ways to notify you that they are in labor!) How much time do you have to get to them when they request your presence? How do your back-up arrangements work if you are not available?
Refunds and unexpected situations. This is part of the contract that often grows and changes as doulas become more experienced. Under what circumstances, if any, would a refund apply? You can also call out specific scenarios in which they would not get a refund. Consider addressing what happens if:
- they decide they no longer want/need a doula or they are moving (no refund)
- they decide not to call you for the birth (no refund)
- there is precipitous birth (no refund as long as you arrive within your specified time)
- they deliver their baby before you are officially on call (typically contracts state that they should call you and you will still come; specify when the final payment is due if not yet paid; possibly partial or full refund if they call in pre-term labor and you miss the birth)
- the client has a planned or unexpected cesarean birth (usually the contract remains in place and you will offer support before, during if allowed, and after the cesarean; a small percentage of doulas offer additional postpartum care after a cesarean).
Are there any circumstances in which they would receive a full or partial refund? Your contract might specify that if you do not arrive within the specified time frame and a backup doula is also not present to support them, they would receive a refund. I'd also suggest specifying that this has never happened (assuming it hasn't), so the client feels protected in this unexpected situation but also reassured that it's unlikely.
Finally, you might consider having an attorney look over your contract. You can use someone locally, or an online service like LegalZoom.com. The suggestions in this article are ideas, not legal advice. It's always good to cover your bases!
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Check out what these experienced doulas have to say about the most important elements of their contract:
Heidi Duncan • Nashville, Tennessee
My contract has developed over time as different situations come up. I once had a client who hired me, paid their contract deposit, and then a couple of months later decided that they were not going to use my services. They wanted their deposit back. When I reviewed my contract, I was relieved to find that it clearly states in multiple places that the deposit is non-refundable. I had to wrestle with the idea of whether or not to refund them because I'd never given much thought to what my deposit represented to me professionally. That deposit secures a date on my calendar that I've committed to work with that client and therefore have turned away other potential income. It was helpful to be able to point them to the contract terms and not have to argue about the details.
Susan Linville • Louisville, Kentucky
I like the expectations in my contract to be very clear. This is one of the most important elements: "I will arrive and begin support within 2 hours of your phone call requesting my presence. Support with be continuous...I will inform you of any foreseeable times when I might be unavailable for labor support. To cover those times, I have two partners whom you may meet if you choose."
Melanie Little • Calgary, Alberta
The most critical piece of my contract is the section outlining my scope of practice. It outlines very clearly exactly what my role as a doula is, and sometimes more importantly, is not. I have had many families who expected that I would BE their voice — a misconception that quite a few people hold. Having this piece outlined in my contract not only helps manage my client’s expectations, but opens to the door to having the conversation about exactly what my role as their doula actually looks like, beyond the myths and rumors.
Ashley Benz • Louisville, Kentucky
For years my contract was an evolving document that originated from my training manual. Recently, I sat down with an attorney and she was horrified to see how many legal loopholes we had left. Having her review our contract and add specifics really helped clarify my business practices to my clients. It especially removed sticky situations regarding payment.
What's the most important part of your contract? Leave us a comment and let us know! Did we miss anything? Do you have questions? Hit us up with a comment. Heart Soul Birth Pros also offers contract coaching, let us know if we can help you!