A huge part of the preparation process before and after pregnancy is making the necessary plans once baby finally arrives. And, if you’ve ever been pregnant or know someone who has, you’re well aware that as soon as the time comes, it’s all hands on deck! But, what about an extra set of hands during those moments just after returning home, when you may need a bit more help? That’s where a postpartum doula comes in. To give us the 4-1-1, we’ve asked Brandi Jordan, MSW, IBCLC, Newborn Care Specialist, and Postpartum Doula to provide the ins and outs of the profession—from what they do and why you might benefit from one, all the way down to how you can acquire a postpartum doula, if it’s not already a part of your birth plan, or in your budget.
First thing’s first, what exactly is a postpartum doula? “A postpartum doula is someone trained to provide expert care to a new family in their first few days and weeks after birth. Although bringing a new baby home can be a joyous and exciting occasion, it can also be overwhelming and very isolating for some new families,” Jordan says. “While the services provided by each caregiver is varied and depends on their particular background, all postpartum doulas are able to assist and educate parents on newborn care, breastfeeding support, engaging older siblings into newborn care, and providing emotional support to the new family.”
To find out more about choosing a postpartum doula for your growing family, Jordan’s expands on some of the major benefits, below.
Education – Postpartum doulas can help care for the baby, but their main focus is on educating new parents. Having a postpartum doula can help bring a sense of harmony and a feeling of comfort to new families. Knowing they have a supportive caregiver who can answer their questions and help them learn how to care for their newborn can be very comforting. There is so much conflicting information on the Internet for new parents, and it’s often copiously given by family members and friends. It can be hard for new parents to understand the “right” thing to do for their family. Many have questions about which products to use, what an appropriate sleep routine is, how to safely sleep with the baby, etc. A trained postpartum doula will be able to help new parents navigate all of those issues and provide evidenced-based information to help them create a philosophy on parenting their newborn that is specific to the needs of their family.
Pair of Extra Hands – On a practical note, an extra pair of hands to help with the mountains of baby laundry, or with making the new mom a light snack can also be a big help to new parents. Some postpartum doulas will do light housekeeping such as tidying up the kitchen, but their focus is always on the new parent and baby. Stocking the nursery, ensuring parents have all the essentials to care for the baby and new parents are both part of the services a postpartum doula provides. Many postpartum doulas will also stop at the local market to grab needed staples for the family, and some even offer as an additional service like preparation of nutritious meals for the entire family.
Breastfeeding Support – It’s important to note that if a mother is experiencing serious complications with breastfeeding such as pain while nursing, or is unsure if the baby is receiving adequate nutrition at the breast, then a postpartum doula could refer them to a lactation specialist commonly known as a lactation consultant. However, most breastfeeding issues do not require this extra specialization, and postpartum doulas are trained to help support a new breastfeeding mother with positioning the baby and helping to ensure comfort for both her and the little one while nursing. Although breastfeeding can be very rewarding, many moms find that it can be difficult in those first few days and weeks. A postpartum doula can help the new mother to normalize a healthy breastfeeding dyad, as well as with educating the mother on when it’s necessary to reach out for help. If it is the new mom’s choice to breastfeed, there is no shortage of research that shows how support during this time can aid in helping her to be successful with exclusive and long-term breastfeeding if that is her goal.
Mothering The New Mother – For new mothers, a postpartum doula can provide many tips on how to properly care for themselves, as new moms also need lots of pampering and emotional support. Whether it’s making the new mother a cup of tea, letting her have a cry on the caregiver’s shoulders, or being able to care for the new baby while a new parent gets a much needed shower or nap, the postpartum doula is there. Sometimes there is very little support for new parents, especially for new mothers who are birthing in the Unites States. Most mothers who become parents through birth will spend less than 48 hours in the hospital, and are too tired to retain the multitude of information often provided by nurses and physicians at their bedside. In a generation where families often live far away from parents and in-laws, the need for outside support has become even greater.
Dad Support – Families are changing! Dads are a much more integral part of parenting a newborn than they were a few generations ago. There are also many fathers who are becoming parents on their own, or with their male spouses. However one becomes the parent of a newborn, all new parents find the life-changing event stressful at times. A postpartum doula can assist new dads in being able to care for themselves and their partner. Having a caregiver who understands the postpartum period is always helpful.
Resources Resources Resources – Where do I find a lactation consultant in my area? What is the best bottle to use with my baby? Are co-sleepers worth the extra money? Who should I call to baby proof my home? Where can I get more information on cloth diapering my baby? Who leads the best new mother support group in my neighborhood? These are just a few of the 10,000 questions that new parents often have. Postpartum doulas will be able to answer 9,999 of them, and connect you to someone who has the answer for that one that they are not able to answer. When you are tired and adjusting to new parent life, most new parents have little energy to research the web, or read the dozens of books printed for each particular subject matter. A postpartum doula takes the time to know and connect with businesses and providers that support new families, and also knows which to be wary of. As families change and the need for culturally competent caregivers becomes increasingly important, having the support of someone who knows your family and wants to help you navigate the new world of parenting can feel like a huge weight off your family’s shoulders.
But, what about the additional costs? Now, it’s true that a postpartum doula can be an extra cost that many new families may not be able to afford. This is a real issue that needs to be addressed. If it seems like a service you are interested in, but are not sure you can afford, here are a few tips some savvy clients have used in the past: On some sites, you can add “providers” to your baby registry, which would allow your friends and family to help give you the gift of postpartum support! There are also postpartum doula interns who have been through the appropriate training, but are trying to get more clients as references and will work at reduced costs, sometimes 30-50% cheaper than the industry standard. If you are having multiples, or have a baby requiring medical care in the home, some insurance companies will cover postpartum doula services for a set number of hours and a set rate per hour.
Lastly, don’t forget about the good ol’ barter system. “I know doulas who have traded for computer help, legal consultation, and even spin classes,” Jordan says. “After witnessing hundreds of families being benefited by postpartum doulas, it’s a service that I’m passionate about sharing with all new parents. Nelson Mandela once said, ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ Let’s begin treating our new families and their children with the best start possible.”