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Why Backup Support is Essential for Doulas

Picture of Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH, AdvCD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE

Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH, AdvCD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE

As a doula, you’re not just providing a service; you’re invited to be there for families during one of the most significant periods of their lives—childbirth and the postpartum period. However, life can throw unexpected curveballs, from sudden illness to family emergencies, making it impossible for even the most dedicated doulas always to be available. This is where backup support comes into play.

Understanding the strategies and arrangements available for doulas to secure backup support ensures that clients receive continuous, seamless care. Let’s delve into how doulas can establish these vital backup arrangements.

The Importance of Backup Support for Doulas


Being a doula demands a high level of commitment and a deep connection with clients. Yet, childbirth and the postpartum period are unpredictable, occurring at any hour of the day or night, often stretching across many hours, sometimes even days. This, combined with the physical and emotional demands of the role, makes it impossible for a single doula to be on call 24/7 without risking burnout.

A backup doula is not an option but a necessity. This support system ensures that the primary doula can take necessary breaks, manage personal emergencies, or simply recharge without worrying about leaving their clients unsupported. It also ensures that the client always has a qualified and trusted professional by their side during labor, birth, and the early postpartum period.

Backup support is not just about physical presence; it’s about continuous emotional, informational, and physical support. This means the backup doula understands the birth plan, knows the client’s preferences and fears, and can provide the same care and support as the primary doula. Therefore, securing backup support isn’t just about having a backup—it’s about providing uninterrupted, seamless care to the families you serve.

Having a backup support system benefits the doulas as well. It reduces stress, prevents burnout, and gives peace of mind. This way, doulas can focus on providing the best possible care to their clients, knowing there is a reliable backup system in place.

Different Backup Support Options

There are various backup support options for doulas, each with unique benefits:

Doula Collectives or Partnerships: Many doulas work in collectives or partnerships. This option allows doulas to provide backup for each other and ensures a known and trusted doula will be available if the primary doula cannot attend a birth or postpartum visit.

Independent Backup Doulas: These are doulas who work independently but have agreements with other independent doulas to provide backup when needed. It’s an excellent option for doulas who prefer working solo but still want the security of a backup plan.

Doula Agencies: Doula agencies often provide built-in backup support. They manage a pool of doulas and organize backup arrangements internally. Joining an agency can be a good option for new doulas or those who don’t want to manage their backup arrangements. Be very careful and read the contract to be sure you’re getting a good deal.

Understanding Different Backup Arrangements

Backup arrangements can vary greatly depending on the relationship between the primary doula and the backup, as well as the specific needs of the client:

Standby Arrangements: In this setup, the backup doula is on standby during the client’s estimated delivery period. The backup doula stays informed about the progress of the labor and steps in if the primary doula is unavailable.

Shared Care Arrangements: With shared care, both doulas share the responsibility of client care throughout pregnancy, labor, postpartum, and beyond. This ensures that the client builds a relationship with both doulas, so if the backup needs to step in, the transition is smoother.

On-Call Arrangements: In on-call arrangements, the backup doula is not involved unless the primary doula is unable to attend the birth or postpartum visit. The backup doula may not have any prior relationship with the client.

Tips for Establishing Effective Backup Arrangements

Choose Compatible Doulas: Whether forming a collective, a partnership, or just seeking an independent backup, ensure that your backup doula is someone you trust and who shares your philosophy of care. The backup doula should provide the same level of support and comfort to your clients.

Clear Communication: Have clear, open discussions about expectations, availability, and compensation. Both parties should agree on how they will inform each other about their clients’ progress.

Introduce Your Backup to Clients: If possible, introduce your backup doula to your clients during a prenatal or postpartum visit. This helps build trust and ensures the client is comfortable with the backup doula.

Document Everything: Have a written agreement that covers all aspects of the backup arrangement. This ensures clarity and helps avoid potential misunderstandings in the future. Yes, you need a contract with your backup.

Regularly Review and Update Arrangements: Backup arrangements should be dynamic. Regularly review and revise your agreements as needed to ensure they continue to meet your and your clients’ needs.

What If You Don’t Have Backup

It’s essential as a doula to have a backup plan to ensure continuity of care for your clients, but in instances where you don’t have one in place yet, here are some steps you can take:

Start Networking: Reach out to other doulas in your area, join doula forums, groups, or local meetups. Building connections with other professionals in your field can help you secure a backup.

Use Doula Directories: Websites like Meet Your Doula, DONA International, or Doula Match provide directories of doulas that you can contact. You can reach out to doulas who might be open to forming a backup arrangement who are certified by the same doula training organization that you used.

Join a Doula Collective or Agency: As mentioned before, collectives and agencies often have built-in backup systems. While it can mean sharing your fees or paying a membership, the benefit of having reliable backup support can be worth the cost.

Negotiate Backup Agreements with Experienced Doulas: If you’re new in the field, you might consider proposing a mentorship arrangement with a more experienced doula. You could offer to serve as their backup (which also provides you with more experience) in exchange for them backing you up when needed.

Communicate with Clients: If you’re in a situation where you can’t find a backup, it’s essential to be honest with your clients. Explain the situation and ensure they understand what might happen if you’re unable to attend the birth or postpartum visit. Some clients may be comfortable with a midwife, nurse, or another trusted professional stepping in if necessary.

Remember, not having a backup is a temporary situation. It’s critical to make finding backup support a priority in your practice to maintain the highest level of care for your clients and avoid professional burnout.

Having a reliable backup system in place is vital for every doula. It ensures seamless care for clients and provides doulas with peace of mind and the ability to manage their workload effectively. With clear communication, trust, and a shared commitment to providing excellent care, doulas can establish effective backup arrangements that serve both them and their clients well. Remember, as a doula, you’re not alone – and with the right backup support, neither are your clients.

Join us in the community to share your experiences and get the support you need on this journey. What do you look for in a backup doula?