What is a postpartum doula? Why would anyone need one?
Since my recent transition from neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) RN to postpartum doula, I get asked these questions a lot. People are typically more familiar with the birth doula, and usually when anyone uses the term “doula,” they typically are referring to someone who supports births. Postpartum doulas are the reinforcements that arrive after you’re home with your new little one.
The challenges of postpartum are many. Weeks (ahem, years) without a decent night’s sleep. As a new mom that breastfeeds, you are no longer an individual, but a food source– solely responsible for supporting an entirely separate life force. Meanwhile, your body is strangely leaking from every possible orifice. Postpartum is when motherhood gets real, and that is when the Postpartum doula arrives on the scene!
What Does a Postpartum Doula Do?
A Postpartum doula does many things. One of the responsibilities is coming into your home and tackling all of those things that would otherwise keep you from focusing your energy on taking care of the newborn. Dishes and laundry, making sure the family is fed and watered, and showing you ways to make life more efficient with a newborn are all things I do. Postpartum doulas help you to, not only survive postpartum, but to thrive in your new life as parents.
In addition to the more tangible aspects of the support we postpartum doulas provide, there is also a significant amount of education about newborns that we bring. We teach newborn care, support with feeding the baby, sleep safety and tips, as well as ways to support those in the family aside from that needy newborn– you know, like yourself! The words “hand over that baby, it is time you took a shower” have come out of my mouth more than once to a new mom. This is survival. But in order to help my clients thrive in the postpartum period, we have to go much deeper. Household support and education are all things you would expect a postpartum doula to do, but the real power lies in the social and emotional support that we bring.
How Postpartum Doulas Help You Thrive in Motherhood
As a NICU RN, postpartum doula, lactation educator, friend, and mother myself, I am called on often to support the many faces of postpartum mood disorders. In my experience, there are often signs you can recognize early on that may be red flags for future postpartum depression in a client. Sometimes it is a gut instinct that tells me I need to be more present, and sometimes there is something in their story that makes me more vigilant.
A 2013 Cochrane Review examined the body of research done investigating predicting factors to postpartum depression and compiled a list of the supported factors by strength (Robertson et al. 2003). I felt so empowered when I read the research because as a postpartum doula, I can have a positive impact on many of the predicting factors! The role of the doula is a powerful one!
For example, they found that “perceived social isolation” was a strong risk factor for postpartum depressive symptoms, and one of the strongest predictors “concerned the availability of companionship and feeling of belonging to a group of similar others, rather than the quality of intimacy with the husband.” This certainly isn’t to lessen the critical role of the partner in supporting the new birth parent, but the experience between the birth and non-birth parent is different and often both are in need of support.
Often times a postpartum doula is called on when our clients don’t have local family or friends to rely on for support. A postpartum doula can offer that companionship and peer support when no one else can. We can offer a type of support that serves with an open heart and without judgment– something friends and family often struggle to do. We are there to listen to and validate our moms’ struggles in those early weeks when their lives have been turned upside-down, and we help develop ways in which the family can adapt in a healthy and successful way. An effective postpartum doula will, along with their own knowledge and experience, come armed with a library of resources to suggest and refer to someone struggling in the postpartum period to ensure they get the peer support they need– whether it be support groups, mother groups, specialists.
Sure, we have plenty of tricks to share and suggestions to make sure baby is safe, but really we are there to prove to the new parent that they too can be a good parent!
Two other predictors of postpartum depression identified in the Cochrane Review were “low self-esteem” and “cognitive attributions.” Postpartum doulas can help mitigate these experiences as well! The role of a postpartum doula is one of empowerment! Sure, we have plenty of tricks to share and suggestions to make sure baby is safe, but really we are there to prove to the new parent that they too can be a good parent!
Sometimes when sleep is at a minimum and new parent anxiety is all-consuming, the postpartum Doula can relieve that stress and normalize the newborn behaviors that you may find completely perplexing. The postpartum doula is there to build confidence in new parents through support, encouragement, and education, and a confident parent will have a more positive, relaxed experience during these early days with a newborn.
Include a Postpartum Doula in Your #BirthSquad
So consider a postpartum doula. We can help you figure out how to calm that baby, get some sleep, and eat more than protein bars. We won’t judge you about the type of diapers you use (or don’t use). We want you and your family to be healthy and safe. And if you really want that Pinterest-worthy nursery, we can help you with that too 🙂