So, you’ve decided you want a doula to help guide you through your pregnancy — wonderful! Doulas are an important source of support, guidance, and information who not only have your best interests in mind but are a knowledgeable advocate to have on your team. As beneficial as having a doula is, however, we know how difficult it can be to find one as well as afford their services. Unfortunately, most health insurers do not yet recognize doulas as in-network health providers. As a result, doula support is often solely accessible to people who can afford to pay for their services out of pocket.
Thankfully, the tides are turning. Despite lingering access barriers, more and more people are finding access to free or low-cost doula services.
First things first, if you or your spouse are employed, have you checked your employee benefits lately? Companies are increasingly providing doula care as part of their health care benefits offerings. Check the fine print or ask your HR department to see whether these services are included or are part of a separate wellness program provided by your employer. In some states, it is possible to use your HSA or FSA account to pay for doula care just as you would a copay at the doctor’s office.
If you are not covered by an employer-sponsored plan, consider taking a look at your personal health insurance plan or Medicaid program. In states such as Minnesota, Oregon and New Jersey, it is becoming increasingly possible to access doulas via Medicaid and more states are rapidly adopting doula care on a policy level.
Doula Support at No Cost
If insurance does not cover your doula, finding an affordable doula is still a possibility. In fact, in many cases, you can access quality doula care for free. At nonprofit doula agencies such as HealthConnect One in Chicago, Illinois, and Ancient Song Doula Services in Brooklyn, New York, doula services are covered for low-income parents and families by grants and donations. These community-based doula programs focus on bridging cultural and language barriers and ensuring all people have access to support around the time of birth, regardless of ability to pay.
You can also try asking the providers where you intend to deliver your baby for guidance. Some hospitals and birth centers have on-call doula programs — call or check their websites to learn about any partnerships that offer doulas to their patients.
If you do not have access to nonprofit agencies or hospital-sponsored services in your area, there are still options. Many private doulas or agencies will budget a small amount of free or greatly discounted services per year for clients who cannot afford their fees. Some even have programs where their clients who pay for their services at full price can contribute to a pool of funding to cover doula costs for other families.
Although the availability of doulas is growing quickly, some of us live in places where doulas are few and far between. Fortunately, there are programs that can offer you digital or telehealth access to doulas. JustBirth Space is a free resource where you can text a doula or lactation specialist at any time for support during or after your pregnancy. They also offer free classes and support groups for birthing parents and their partners.
Budget, Barter or Become the Expert Yourself!
Even if you have exhausted these options for free or low-cost doulas, there are still ways to find support. One option to explore is working with a new or trainee doula. Some doulas who are new to the profession offer low-cost or even free services as they begin to put their training into practice and apply the skills they’ve learned with their first few births.
Whether new or experienced, some doulas will even consider alternative payment methods. Do you or your partner have a skill set or offer a service that might be valuable to the doula? Consider a barter. It’s also possible to let friends and family members chip in for your doula, through various baby registry websites.
While there are more and more options for affordable doula support, you still may face challenges finding the right support at the right price, and that’s OK. The reality is that anyone can learn to provide support around the time of birth. Through doing a little research and taking a good childbirth education course together, like the free classes at JustBirth Space, a friend or partner can learn many of the techniques and mindsets that doulas bring to their role and provide you excellent support.
When choosing a doula, it’s important to feel comfortable, respected, heard and understood. As the health care system evolves to better recognize the benefits of support services like those offered by doulas, availability of these important birth partners will also get better. Until then, it may take some legwork and creativity, but the support you deserve is often out there if you look.