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.
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?