"She holds babies!"
This morning, my son's preschool teacher asked him what my job was, and I was really curious about his response since I don't recall ever telling him anything specific about what I do at work. His teacher asked him, "What does your mom do at her job?" and my son replied, "She holds babies!" I was amazed! And he's not really wrong, either!
It did get me thinking later on that there are specific people whose job it is to watch and care for newborns so that families can get more rest, heal, or get back to work. This kind of job is often called baby nurse or night nanny, or even night nurse, though like doulas, these kinds of nurses do not usually have any medical training.
A baby nurse is specialized in newborn care - soothing, feeding, recommending schedules or routines, and often providing 6-8 hours of in-home care most days (or nights!) of the week. It can be such a relief to have someone like this in your home when you have multiples, for example, or if your recovery from childbirth or other medical issues is making it quite impossible to be up and about in the early weeks. Newborn care is extremely demanding and exhausting, and so holding babies is also something I do as a postpartum doula!
As a postpartum doula, my focus is a little different from that of a baby nurse, however. My main objective is to serve and support a new mother and sometimes that means, I hold the baby so mom can shower, eat with both hands, or get a few hours of decent sleep. But in addition to baby holding, I also provide information and education so that a new mom (or dad!) feels reassured, supported, and relaxed even if her experience with babies is limited to this new little person!
We do a few baby sponge baths together so that mom can eventually tackle this task confidently on her own. We practice buckling the baby in the car seat, and transferring the seat into the car, and then out of the car and into the stroller, until the whole process flows smoothly. We put the baby in the carrier, and try bicycle legs for gassy tummies, and check latches when breastfeeding, and slowly, I work my way out of a job because this mom has got it!
Sometimes, on an entire 3- or 4-hour visit, I might never hold the baby because I'm busy figuring out how to make this baby swing work, making lunch and listening to a new mom re-live the mess and magic of her baby's birth day or debriefing her last visit with the pediatrician, and then I might do a few loads of laundry while mom works through a marathon feeding session with the baby. And if that's the support the family needs that day, then that's my job that day. My focus, as a postpartum doula, is to mother the mother - what does she need today? A listening ear? A hot meal? A hand with the changing station set up? Or just some solitude and silence for an hour or two?
And if it's rest she needs, then yes, I do hold the baby.
Your turn: if you've ever had a newborn in the house, what's the best support a postpartum doula could have offered you? Tell me in the comments, or join me on Instagram! I’d love to hear your experiences!