Doula (pronounced doo-la) is a Greek word meaning "woman's servant" or "one who mothers the mother." Postpartum doulas aren't nannies; instead, they focus on caring for the new mother so she can attend to the newborn. For several days to a few weeks after mother and baby return home from the hospital, doulas run errands, cook--whatever eases the transition.
There's a strong educational component to doula care. Doulas teach mothers the basics of baby care and health, plus how to handle changing family dynamics. "Doulas are an extra pair of eyes and ears to alert new parents to budding problems," says Chris Morley, a former doula and founder of Tender Care, a Valencia, California, company that sells a $25,000 training program to hospitals nationwide interested in providing their own doula services.
Although doula care is relatively new in the United States, the number of doulas is growing, from 85 in 1992 to about 2,500 currently, according to Doulas of North America, a trade association in Seattle. Morley started her business in 1988, two years after the birth of her daughter, Amanda. "I realized there was no way anyone can prepare for the all-consuming demands and needs of a baby," says the 42-year-old entrepreneur. "Physical exhaustion is a real problem for new mothers." She started her homebased business with a $5,000 loan, promoting her services at Lamaze classes, in parenting publications and directly to physicians. Clients pay doulas between $16 and $23 per hour; most use the service for about two weeks.
When Morley, who once employed as many as 30 doulas, closed her direct-provider service in October 1997, it was grossing more than $100,000 per year. Since she began offering her consulting and program development services to hospitals, her income has increased even more.
Because there are no licensing requirements, providers can enter the profession easily, but Morley recommends receiving training from an experienced doula before accepting clients. Some local midwifery centers offer training; Doulas of North America also runs moderately priced certification workshops.
It's also important to determine if there's a market for the service in your area. Successful doulas operate in middle-class or wealthy communities, where clients can afford the service. "A lot of people have great doula hearts but they don't wear their business hats," Morley says. "That's where they run into trouble."