Wait... a postpartum doula? Is that a thing?
That’s just what I said! About a year after my son was born, I met with a group of other aspiring doulas to find out what it might take to become qualified to work as a birth doula – someone who supports women in childbirth. It was a really interesting and helpful meeting, but the most enlightening part of it all was that there are, in fact, many different kinds of doulas who support families during hugely transformational times! One of those kinds of doulas is called a postpartum doula.
How can a postpartum doula help?
A postpartum doula serves a family in their home during the immediate postpartum period – in the weeks and months after childbirth. This can be incredibly helpful for families whose relatives live far away, who don’t have a large, reliable, generous support network, and those looking for steady, helpful, calm reassurance, on a regular basis, for as long as it takes to feel like they’re getting the hang of this newborn parenting thing.
What does a postpartum doula do?
A postpartum doula’s main objective is to take care of the new mother and help her as she cares for her newborn. So what does that entail? Well, there are 4 specific kinds of support I offer to new moms in my postpartum doula work.
Firstly, I provide physical support for the new mom’s recovery from childbirth. She might feel worn out from a long (or even a short!) labor, exhausted from sleep deprivation, and so very sore from stitches, or c-section surgery, a weird epidural, or the beginnings of breastfeeding. A postpartum doula can bring supplies, offer helpful advice, and give the new mom a few hours to shower and nap and take care of herself.
Secondly, caring for a new mom after childbirth also involves providing emotional support during the early weeks. Most new mothers find they experience overwhelming emotions and inexplicable mood swings in the first two weeks after giving birth, and while it is common to blame these emotions on the shifting hormones and the sleep disruption a newborn baby brings to the family, there are a lot of changes happening in a new family’s world! Everyone has a new role and there are new expectations that haven’t been given words yet, let alone communicated clearly. On top of all these changes, a new mother often has mixed emotions about her childbirth experience. She might feel relief, gratitude, satisfaction, pride, but also regret, grief, guilt, or shame. The regular visits of a comforting and empathetic postpartum doula can provide a new mom some much needed time to talk, to reflect, to feel heard, and to sort out her emotions.
Thirdly, a new mom might look to a postpartum doula for help getting confident in newborn care. Bathing a tiny squirmy newborn is not easy, figuring out feeding (breast or otherwise) is not intuitive (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!) and learning to soothe a fussy baby or understanding what is normal in the first few weeks of a baby’s life takes time and support! Knowing that someone familiar is coming over later in the day can really calm a new parent’s worried soul. A postpartum doula can help ease the uncertainty, smooth over the early bumps, and help a new family figure out and settle into their own rhythm.
Lastly, a postpartum doula serves a family and supports a new mom by taking care of some of the housekeeping so that a new mom doesn’t feel like she needs to be up on her feet tidying, vacuuming, hauling laundry, cooking, or cleaning when what she really needs is to rest! It might be tempting to suggest that the new mom’s partner ought to be taking over these tasks whenever possible, but partners are often every bit as sleep deprived and worn out from anxiety and excitement, and in many cases, are also expected to be back to full-time work within a matter of days or weeks. If new parents don’t have helpful family and generous friends stopping by with meals or visiting strictly for the purpose of doing all the laundry and cleaning all the floors, a regularly visiting postpartum doula can take an immense weight off everyone’s shoulders. I love bringing baked goodies, fixing a big meal, cleaning the kitchen, and folding laundry - wouldn't you love it if someone did that for you?
Postpartum doulas help
When I had my son, we were living in Japan, near a US Navy base, and there were just a very few doulas in town who were quite booked up by the time I had arrived. I was so very lucky that my mom was able to stay with us for the first 6 weeks after my son was born. When we planned her trip, my husband was concerned that 6 weeks might be too long to have a houseguest but I told him to wait and see. "You just wait!" I said! And of course, once my mom had gone home, it suddenly felt like two people were not quite enough to care for our particular baby who seemed to cry quite a lot and sleep so little. Like most parents, we managed, and it's all too easy to brush it off as 'a hard time, but we got through it' when in fact, I would have benefitted a great deal from more support, and I know I am not alone in thinking that more help ought to be available for new moms in the early weeks and months!
Ok! So there you have the basics of postpartum doula care! I used to offer everything from a one-time 3-hour visit up to a 6-week package but most doulas offer lots of flexibility so that families get just as much help as they want!
And if you don’t have access to postpartum doula services where you live, you can always get support online! I am available for regular virtual postpartum meet-ups – just shoot me a message through my Contact form and we can get started!