With the increased policy emphasis on promoting doula care to advance birth equity in the United States, there is a vital need to identify sustainable and equitable approaches for compensation of community doulas, who serve clients experiencing the greatest barriers to optimal pregnancy-related outcomes. This case study explores two different approaches for compensating doulas (contractor versus hourly employment with benefits) utilized by SisterWeb San Francisco Community Doula Network in San Francisco, California. We conducted qualitative interviews with SisterWeb doulas in 2020 and 2021 and organizational leaders in 2020. Overall, leaders and doulas reported that the contractor approach, in which doulas were paid a flat fee per client, did not adequately compensate doulas, who regularly attend trainings and provide additional support for their clients (e.g., referrals to promote housing and food security). Additionally, this approach did not provide doulas with healthcare benefits, which was especially concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic. As hourly, benefited employees, doulas experienced a greater sense of financial security and wellbeing from receiving consistent pay, compensation for all time worked, and benefits such as health insurance and sick leave, allowing some to dedicate themselves to birth work. Our study suggests that efforts to promote community doula care must integrate structural solutions to provide appropriate compensation and benefits to doulas, simultaneously advancing birth equity and equitable labor conditions for community doulas.
Keywords: birth equity; community doula; compensation; doula; health equity; labor conditions; maternal health; pregnancy.