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Doula burnout: How to prevent it and how to recover

burnt out doula

Why are doulas prone to burnout? What does doula burnout feel like? How can doula burnout be prevented? And how can doulas recover from burnout?


To fully understand doula burnout, how to prevent it and how to recover we'll take a holistic approach. By looking at the root cause of doula burnout we can support the evolution of the doula to increase their chances of avoiding burnout in the first place or for the doulas who are already experiencing burnout we can create change for the future.


It's not shocking that burnout is so common with doulas. There is a pattern in the kind of person who is called to doula work. I've never known a doula who chose this profession because it promised them easy wealth. Doula work attracts givers, nurturers and natural caretakers. The kinds of people who are often drawn to become doulas are usually more likely to self sacrifice for the benefit of others.


Whether caretaking is a natural personality trait, a learned behaviour or a trauma response, its why people often love their doulas. It is very natural for doulas to answer the call at any hour, give a little bit extra if it will make a difference and put the well being and needs of others first. These are such beautiful human qualities! The other side of the caretaker coin is difficulty receiving, self neglect and finding it hard to say no. New and experienced doulas would do well to spend some time self reflecting around their own unique balance of give and receive.


Doula work can be very demanding, especially due to the nature of on call work, long hours, missed sleep and even missed meals. Births happen when they happen and it can mean doulas often throw themselves back into other work, family responsibilities or even other births with minimal recovery time. Birth work can also be very stressful and sometimes traumatic. Navigating relationships with medical staff, holding space for big emotions, pregnancy and infant loss and traumatic births can keep doulas in a state of high cortisol for a prolonged period of time.


How can doulas prevent doula burnout?

  1. Charge what you are worth Doulas need to recognize that their love for giving and caretaking makes them susceptible to undervaluing the support they provide. By undercharging doulas may need to attend more births in a short period of time leaving no space for balance. Don't base your fee on what other doulas in your community charge. Remember that they probably undercharge as well. Increasing what you receive in exchange for what you give is good practice for many doulas.

  2. Broaden your source of income By having additional sources of income doulas can attend fewer births per month or take a month off when needed for balance. Offering infertility support, reflexology sessions, Reiki sessions, prenatal yoga classes or prenatal classes provides a financial stability that allows doulas to maintain balance with their on call schedule.

  3. Practice receiving in other areas of life How many times do doulas say no when others offer to help or support them? I would wager a guess that the ratio is pretty high when compared to most other professions. Burnout is a symptom of imbalance. Receiving support, lunch, a glass of water, a massage etc. when offered may feel super hard but is good medicine for the doula archetype.

  4. Practice saying no Over giving is a symptom of an inability to say no. It's okay to say no instead of sacrificing balance or your own self care.

How to recover from doula burnout

  1. Nurture your nervous system Burnout is a symptom of adrenal fatigue, sleep irregularity and an imbalance between giving and receiving. In addition to rest doulas can recover quicker by doing the things that put the nervous system into a parasympathetic state as often as possible. Restorative yoga, float tanks, Reiki sessions, yoga nidra, hypnosis and reflexology are examples of activities that not only put the body into a parasympathetic or rest and heal state but some of which provide the equivalent of 3-4 hours of sleep in an hour.

  2. Receive care from others Going for bodywork like reflexology, enjoying a meal at a friend's house or talking things out with a good friend or counsellor can help the return to balance.

  3. Spend time in nature Nature reminds us to slow down and connect. The earth energy is grounding, clearing and restorative. Sit in the rapids, lay in the sun or sit back to trunk with a tree.

  4. Ease back into work gradually Plan for regular time off in advance. Make a habit of blocking certain days or even weeks off well in advance and commit to not squeezing client work in during that time. Make restorative self care practices a part of each day. Practice what you preach to your clients!



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