Parents with a newborn often face challenges and struggle in four areas following birth, and a certified postpartum doula is trained to help.
Before my first baby was born, I thought 'I'll just breastfeed and sleep when the baby sleeps, and do all the other stuff when she sleeps too. I mean, I used to stay up late in college and that was no biggie...so this surely wouldn't be a problem.'
Fast forward to a few months later. I didn't sleep the two nights before the birth, and it felt like I never slept again in the two years after (I exaggerate, but still...). The only thing that I could actually count on was getting up each morning to a house strewn with discarded nursing pads, pump parts, water bottles, burp cloths, dishes, and tissues (for my baby blues tears). Once my husband went back to work, it felt like I walked around in a daze each day. We actually skipped (skipped!) Christmas that year and, I kid you not, we ate Cup o Noodles for Christmas dinner. You would not have known that I had been a fully functioning grown-up just a few weeks earlier. But, those early postpartum months (!) helped train me for the services I provide my clients with everyday.
So what is a postpartum doula? This is someone who comes into your home after your baby is born (in person or virtually) and helps wherever there is a need, with whatever is necessary in that moment on that day. This support can start at anytime, but usually starts within the first few days of arriving home with the baby. But let's answer the deeper question of "What does a postpartum doula actually do?"
Added to the education I received during my postpartum certification, what I learned as a new mom prepared me (twice) for becoming a postpartum doula that could anticipate and serve the many needs of my postpartum clients - physical and emotional.
Emotional Support & Companionship
A postpartum doula feels what you feel, because often we were once right where you are, sitting in that spot on the couch wearing the same spit-up-on shirt you were wearing yesterday. We are a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to celebrate with, and a companion to talk to. We'll listen to and help you unpack your birth story, answer questions about your emotions and how you feel about new parenthood, your newborn etc. We'll validate all the feels - the wonderful and the not so wonderful.
Sometimes we're an adult companion to spend the day with if your partner has returned to work.
Education & Decision Support
As postpartum doulas, I like to say we know a little about a LOT! We make a living learning from experience that the care of a new child can be complex, including recognizing newborn characteristics, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, milk storage, baby soothing, baby wearing, developmental milestones, normal newborn sleep, and on and on. As doulas, it is our job to answer your questions, provide information, resources, referrals, and ideas. One of the many other advantages of working with a seasoned postpartum doula is that we usually have a large professional network, so we can offer many other places to go to for additional support if needed. Also, many postpartum doulas have special passions and specific certifications in Breastfeeding, Sleep Consulting, Baby Wearing, Baby Massage, Postpartum Yoga, etc. We often never want to stop learning!
Remember the messy house mentioned above? Well, a postpartum doula can help with all of that too! When we walk into a client's home, we check on the new parents and see how their night was and how they are doing (while washing our hands!). We make sure they have adequate food and drink and then often throw in a load of laundry, clean pump and bottle parts, wipe down the kitchen counters, re-stock the diaper station, and put away the laundry. Doulas often help with food prep so you can more easily grab snacks and meals when on your own.
Physical Presence Support
There is much to be said about how one can easily feel alone when parenting a new baby day in and day out, which can lead to even menial tasks becoming overwhelming. In the role as a postpartum doula, we often find new parents get comfort from just chatting while they nurse or feed the baby (while your doula organizes the baby's clothes and folds laundry...some doulas LOVE to fold and organize baby clothes....just saying!). Other areas where being physically present matters include going on walks with you. That sounds easy, but new parents often find getting out of the house is easier said than done, and the idea of taking baby along can be daunting at first. Your doula might even ride in the back seat of the car with your baby while you run errands so baby has someone to talk to too!
Why is this important?
The first 12+ weeks has been coined “the fourth trimester” and is often the period where new parents most benefit from doula support. This is because it's often all new, (or you have an older child already and you're managing both), you're recovering from pregnancy and birth, you might be tired and overwhelmed, and newborns require a lot of care and attention. Since our societies used to be made up of villages filled with all of our friends and family, new parents were likely to be surrounded by supportive women (and men) who helped immensely during pregnancy, labor, and the postpartum period. New parents had the space to snuggle their babies, feed them, and bond with them. Since these support groups often don't exist anymore, postpartum doulas are stepping in to fulfill that role.
What does this support look like?
A shift might be 3-4 hours, or sometimes longer, weekdays, 1 to 5 days per week, depending on each individual client's level of need, amount of additional support, and budget. What I have heard form clients to be most beneficial is frequent support during the first 6 weeks, sometimes everyday, and then continuous support at some level until months three or four, especially if partners return to work. There is often room for flexibility around your schedule and needs, especially since baby birthdays are unpredictable!