What is a Postpartum Doula?

Postpartum care for a woman who has just given birth in the United States is, to put it gently, pretty abysmal. Bringing a new baby into your home, whether it’s your first or your 8th, brings with it changes in routine, sleep habits, eating habits, not to mention the social and emotional upheaval that comes with adding another person into your family unit. It’s not very often that a woman has a mother figure who can drop everything and come camp out with them for those first few weeks, or more ideally, months. More often than not, a woman brings her new baby into her home surrounded by friends and family—for about 2 days. If she’s part of a church or other close-knit community, she may also get a mealtrain for a couple of weeks so that she doesn’t have to cook dinner. Often though, beyond that, she’s on her own with her partner…until that partner has to return to work just days or at most a couple of weeks later. Sounds less than ideal, right?

…that’s because it is! All over the world, other countries and cultures are doing a better job of caring for the postpartum mother than we do. It’s culturally normal for grandmas and aunts to move in and help out for sometimes months on end, while mothers have a period of time called “lying in” with their newborn. In other countries, the government even subsidizes or pays for postpartum help for a new mother for up to a year!

So what are we to do?

Enter the postpartum doula.postpartum doula

A postpartum doula is someone who provides evidence-based information and training to new parents in areas of baby care, sleep, breastfeeding/bottle feeding, baby bonding, infant soothing, and more. Postpartum doulas come for blocks of time as often as the parents request their presence, and some postpartum doulas also provide overnight care. While in your home, postpartum doulas can do anything and everything to help care for both baby and mother. Sometimes this is holding and caring for baby while mom catches up on sleep. Sometimes it means preparing food and snacks for mom, cleaning, running errands, and helping siblings adjust to the new baby. Often it means helping the mother feel comfortable in her role…reassuring her in the areas that she feels doubt, and offering education in areas she feels she is lacking knowledge. Above all, postpartum doulas strive to “mother the mother,” and nurture the whole family as they adjust to their new family member. They provide a comforting presence, and a listening ear when new mothers need it most. Postpartum doulas serve families for a few days, to a few months–whatever the family’s specific needs are.

What a Postpartum Doula is NOT

A postpartum doula does NOT take the place of a health care provider, a licensed therapist, or a baby nurse. Postpartum doulas to not offer any medical advice, dispense medications, or offer therapy services (unless they are also licensed in that area of expertise).

Most postpartum doulas also have clear limitations on what they will do. A family seeking postpartum doula care should find out from their postpartum doula what her specific limitations are before hiring her.  (For example, some postpartum doulas do not provide overnight care, or work with animals, or sleep train babies younger than a certain age.) Everyone is different, so please make sure you are clear on your desires before hiring a postpartum doula.


 

If you know that you will not have the level of support you want/need after bringing a new baby into your home, consider how a postpartum doula could help you! Have you personally had experience with a postpartum doula? What was your care like? How did your family benefit from her care?

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Why Hire a Doula?

When describing what a doula is, I frequently hear others say that doulas “mother the mother”. While I really like that description, it does not fully resonate with me. (Let’s just say my mother and I had a complicated relationship!) So, for those like me who are carrying mama-baggage (or if that relationship was absent), I’d like to offer slightly different vocabulary. Try thinking of a doula as one who gives thoughtful care and kind attention to the laboring woman…a doula is someone who “nurtures the mother”.

What benefits are there to being nurtured in labor? 

Rachael and Jill have provided some insight here and here as to what that might entail on a physical level. This can involve a wide range of duties from helping the smoothie-729922__180mother stay nourished via food and water to helping her to the bathroom to applying heat or counterpressure during contractions to fanning her while she pushes. We will do-ula just about whatever it takes to maximize the woman’s physical comfort levels in labor! (Little doula humor there!)

“The things that she did that stand out are give me a hair tie when mine broke, she brought me a nutritional shake, and she also made sure I got to eat right after he was born.”**

“She was there with a trash can when I lost my dinner and coolly told us it was normal and a good sign.”

“She applied counterpressure to my sacrum the ENTIRE time I pushed…it was a much-appreciated alleviation to all the pressure I was feeling!”

Women who hire doulas report increased levels of emotional satisfaction in their childbirth experience. Doulas do not come into births with their own agendas (or at least, they shouldn’t!). Our agenda is YOUR agenda. We are here to encourage YOU in making the choices that feel best for your unique family. We are here to build YOU up, so you feel strengthened in facing the important (and sometimes difficult) work ahead of you.  We are here to assist YOU in having a birth experience that you can reflect back on with peace. Isn’t it comforting to know there is someone whose sole concern is YOU?
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“She helped me emotionally unpack my first birth (when preparing for my second).”

“My first birth was an emergency section and I had no idea what was going on. It would have been less terrifying with someone there who knew what was going on and could focus on me.”

“She was beyond supportive and helped me feel like I had somebody on my side.”

The Biggest Benefit = Continuous Labor Support

Many women mistakenly believe their healthcare provider or nurse will be with them throughout most of their labor. While I have witnessed nurses on a slower night being able to stay with one laboring woman for a good chunk of her labor, unfortunately, it is just not realistic for a hospital setting. On most nights, the nurses have multiple patients to keep track of and attend to. Nurses are AMAZING and WONDERFUL and BRILLIANT people! But, they are just that…people with human limitations. We cannot ask impossible physical feats of them, like bilocation amongst patient rooms.

If you’d like to enjoy the perks of having someone with you every step of the way, a doula is your best bet! As a loyal companion, your doula is charged with the privilege of walking alongside you for the duration of your pregnancy and childbirth journey. For some of the trek, she might provide a listening ear or a hand to hold. At other points in the adventure, she might physically hold you up as you wonder whether you will crack under the strain this particular contraction. Still more, she may simply remind you of just how stunning you are as you ride out one more wave of labor contractions.

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As your doula, we will not shy away from the mountain peaks you might encounter in your birth. We cannot scale them for you, but we are here to cheer you on EVERY step of the way. A steady friend, a trustworthy confidante, a warm ally — we are here for you throughout the entire process.

“I thought it was great just to have someone I KNEW I could trust in that vulnerable space of birthing…having that consistent, trustworthy presence was probably the #1 for me.”

“I knew no one could do it for me….it was MY work to be done. But, it was like having a cheerleader meshed with a loving friend to keep me company along the way.”

Doulas as Part of a Birth Team

So, who WILL be with you then throughout your labor process? Perhaps a partner, or a family member, or even a close friend. It is good and beautiful and awesome to be surrounded by people who love you in the challenging moments of life! However, expecting loved ones to also wear a doula hat is not fair to them or you.

“Can’t my partner be my doula?”

In American birthing history, you can see how the pendulum has swung from one extreme to another. A few generations ago, fathers were expected to stay out of the “women’s work” and wait until he was informed that his son or daughter had arrived. Picture the black and white videos of a well-dressed man in a suit, pacing the lobby floor while smoking a cigarette. Nowadays? Well folks, we have swung clear the other direction. Too often, partners are expected to DO ALL THE THINGS for the laboring woman, simultaneously anticipating her every need and being armed with an array of knowledge of how to help her in every moment. What a heavy burden and unfair expectation!

Can your partner support you? Absolutely! Can your partner be your doula? That is a lot to ask of someone who is also getting ready to welcome a new life into the world and transition into parenthood. One big benefit of a doula is having a trained, compassionate professional working in tandem with your partner (who knows you intimately) to best meet your birthing needs. Linked by the common purpose of nurturing YOU, doulas and partners compliment one another beautifully in the process.

“…everything she said to me was gold. It was empowering and allowed my husband the luxury of being a part of the birth of his son! There is also something encouraging about having a woman there that understands the work you’re doing.”

“Can’t my mother/sister/best friend be my doula?”

The answer to this question is similar to the previous one. Can a family member or loved one support you? Without a doubt! Can that same person act as your doula? Again, that is a tall order to give someone who is emotionally invested in YOU, your health and your team-472488__180happiness to an incomparable degree. If a tense situation arises in labor, a doula does not have the same attachment to you that your family and loved ones do. Thus, we are less likely to feel rattled, defensive, threatened or scared; we are more likely to assist in constructive ways with a clear head. We are there to help your entire birth team navigate circumstances as they arise and support you without our own emotions getting in the way.

Lastly, if you are seeking any further motivation to add a doula to your birth team, be sure to read this and this and this.

So, it seems the real question now is…why NOT hire a doula?

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**All quotes in this post were taken from local Chambana moms when asked about their birthing experiences with a doula.

 

by Shannon Morber

What is a doula?

Have you been tossing around the idea of hiring a doula for your upcoming birth but have a few questions about what they do and how they can help you? You have found the right blog… read on to learn more!

A doula is someone who has been trained to offer continuous support during the labor process. A doula also provides support during the pregnancy and helps to prepare the couple for childbirth by meeting with them before the birth process starts. Doula comes from a Greek word that means “a woman who serves.”

The doula meets with the couple after they have hired her to get to know each other, practicing comfort measures and reviewing options and resources as needed. This also helps create a relationship so the laboring mother doesn’t see her doula as a stranger but someone she is comfortable with and feels supported by completely.

Once labor begins your doula is available by phone during early labor to provide support until active labor starts, this is when she usually joins the couple to provide in person support. Once your doula is there, she will not leave until you are ready. A doula doesn’t have an agenda for your birth—your doula is there to support your wishes and preferences. At Gentle Transitions we are here to provide nonjudgmental support!

A lot of times the partner is concerned that with a doula their role becomes obsolete. And that isn’t the case at all. A doula’s role doesn’t take over your partner’s role; the 2 roles are very different. I have been to births where the partner knows he wants to play a huge role as main supporter but I have been to births where the partner isn’t sure which role to play or how comfortable they are with the whole process. We work together to find how we all can support the laboring women best. After all, no one knows the laboring mother better than her partner, there are a number of times I look to the partner to know how to support her the best. This is another reason why getting together before the birth and talking over roles and expectations is very helpful.

Although a doula doesn’t prevent interventions from happening at births, research shows having a doula present decreases the need for common interventions. Evidence Based Birth pulled together research on doulas and they found that women with continuous labor support have an overall increase in satisfaction of their birth experiences. The research also found there was a 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin and a 28% decrease in the risk of a cesarean.*

It is also important to remember that while a doula is certainly a part of your birth team; a doula doesn’t provide medical support or advice. We won’t suggest going against your care provider’s recommendations. Our role in labor is to help with comfort measures like breathing, movement and positioning. We work on relaxation physically, mentally and emotionally. We can remind you of your birth preferences and help ask questions that help you make a choice that is best for you.

It is important to find someone you feel comfortable with and who you want to have with you on this wonderful day. The doulas at Gentle Transitions would love to meet with you and talk about how we can work together to support you and your partner during this time in life.

 

* http://evidencebasedbirth.com/the-evidence-for-doulas/

5 Ways Postpartum Sex is Like Labor (& how to enjoy it!)

Okay mamas, be honest…when you hear “postpartum sex”, how do you feel? Do you get a bubble of excitement or giddiness? Perhaps you experience a bit of internal groaning and dread? Maybe overtures of joy flood in, only to be followed by fugues of fear?  For a new mother, the mere thought of postpartum sex can trigger an entire army of emotions as she tries to wrap her brain around something once again entering the very space that her little baby recently exited.

Drawing similarities between postpartum sex and labor might seem like an unfair comparison or a mental stretch. On the other hand, it can feel like a perfectly acceptable, natural parallel to use. Indulge me, if you will, as I highlight some truths behind this analogy.

LIKE LABOR:

1) Postpartum sex is uncharted territory.

You have never had sex with this post-baby body, after this particular child in this distinctive stage of your life with this exclusive set of emotions, experience and expectations. Even if you already have a child (or several!), each pregnancy and birth is unique. Thus, the way you are physically and emotionally impacted can be different each and every time. Some postpartum periods are smooth sailing while others feel like a long, difficult trek through the wilderness.Cedar_Mtn_Wilderness

Since postpartum sex is a new experience every single time you have a baby, remember to be gentle with yourself! Just as in labor, it helps to mentally prepare for a positive experience; sex may go smoothly without any discomfort at all. Who knows…you might actually enjoy yourself in the very first go ‘round! But if there is discomfort or pain or awkwardness abounding, show yourself compassion. Chart this new course intentionally with your partner, taking steps (outlined below) to increase the likelihood of great pleasure.

2) Postpartum sex requires physical relaxation.

For a postpartum mom, the tip most frequently given for postpartum sex is lubrication. And for good reason! Physical intimacy is smoother (and more enjoyable!) when things are wet and slippery. Depending on hormone levels and breastfeeding slipperystatus, postpartum women can experience a marked increase in vaginal dryness. So, even if you have never needed it before, do not be shy about employing outside lubrication!

On a physical level, it is important to go slowly. Consciously let go of your muscle tension. Stop, or take breaks, as needed. Remember to breathe; oxygenation helps keep your body soft and loose. Communicate what you are physically feeling and guide your partner, as needed. Foreplay is your friend!

3) Postpartum sex requires mental relaxation. 

Set the stage for intimacy! What kind of environment do you find most relaxing and conducive to s800px-Candle_flame_(1)ex? Candles and soft music? Quiet and total darkness? Do warm snuggly blankets or crisp, cool sheets sound more enticing? If your partner does not already have an idea of your preferences for a relaxing environment, say them out loud. Those elements can only be incorporated if they are known.

Ponder what you need to mentally let go of the outside world and participate more fully. This might involve creative timing around a napping baby or tackling an unpleasant chore first (e.g. paying hospital bills). Whatever stressors are rolling around in your head, take steps with your partner to minimize them.

4) Postpartum sex requires emotional relaxation.

In order to be fully relaxed, it is important to feel safe. Your personal feelings of security will have a direct impact on how relaxed your body and mind are in this postpartum encounter. How secure do you feel about your partnership, family life or being loved? Do you need a security boost?!

One way to increase feelings of security is to speak to one another in your respective love languages. If you are not already familiar with this concept, I encourage you to take the quiz today and discover your love language! Filling up one another’s “love tank” is crucial for physical intimacy to be a positive experience. In the days or weeks preceding sex, see how many ways you can say “I love you” to your partner. Make a game of it! Be playful and fun with one another.

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If the sex gets awkward, laugh together! Don’t take yourselves too seriously; it will free you from experiencing the perceived “weight” or burden of these early intimate encounters post-baby. (Double bonus – laughter instantly relaxes one’s mind and body!)

5) Postpartum sex progresses best when coupled with positive communication.
Be considerate in your communication, but also be open and honest with your partner. You do not have to bury or hide your feelings. Relationships work best under the light of authenticity. That being said, you are both in a very sensitive and vulnerable phase of family life. Speak your truth kindly.

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Whether you are eager to physically reconnect with your partner or tensing up at the mere thought of it, sex is usually a part of the couple package. It can be a powerful form of intimacy and connection (which can be especially helpful during the postpartum time when couples may be feeling a bit distanced from one another). Embrace this early time in the parenting trenches and open yourself up to a new chapter in your sex life. Postpartum sex will look and feel different than pre-pregnancy sex; that’s okay. Different does not always equal bad. Just remember – however your experience ultimately takes shape, it will be much more enjoyable when created together.