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The birth of your baby is a time filled with wonder and excitement. But for many new moms, it’s also accompanied by fatigue, uncertainty, and endless questions about how to care for a newborn. So, what support is available for families after the baby’s arrival? Let’s learn what a postpartum doula is.
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When is the Postpartum Period?
Postpartum refers to the period directly following delivery. It is generally considered to be the first six weeks after the birth of a baby. (Postpartum is the term used to refer to issues affecting the mother and postnatal is used to refer to the baby, though sometimes people use the terms interchangeably.) Some people refer to the three months after delivery as the “fourth trimester” and consider that the postpartum period.
What is a Postpartum Doula?
The word doula comes from a Greek word meaning one who serves. You’re likely more familiar with the role of a birth doula — a trained support person who attends mom during labor and delivery.
A postpartum doula is exactly what the name suggests — a doula that helps during the postpartum period. They are trained, experienced birth workers who help families adjust to their new lives and ease women’s transitions into motherhood (1, 2). A postpartum doula may be someone who does only postpartum work, meaning that you’d also hire a separate birth doula if you want one present during labor. Or it may be someone who does both, meaning you’d hire one doula to be with you through labor and delivery and also the postpartum period.
What Do They Do?
Postpartum doulas do a wide variety of things for a woman and her family as they learn to care for and bond with a new baby. DONA International defines the role of the postpartum doula as one who provides physical, emotional, and informational support. Let’s look at each of these.
Postpartum Doula – Physical Support
Physical support includes showing mom how to do hands-on infant care. It also includes “mothering the mother” or giving a new mom time to rest or practice self-care. The doula may care for or comfort the newborn or help care for other children. She may help with light housework, meal prep, or running errands. As she provides all of these physical supports for a time, she will also help the family plan for how these needs are met after her time is done.
Postpartum Doula – Emotional Support
A newborn brings so many changes. These life changes also come along at a time when mom is experiencing wild hormonal changes and is likely sleep-deprived. This is the perfect storm for an emotional roller coaster.
A doula is someone to talk to and lean on during a time of emotional flux. And while they’re not trained to treat it, postpartum doulas are also experienced with postpartum mood changes, such as depression (1). They recognize when “baby blues” become something that require more than a listening ear and can help a woman seek outside care, if necessary.
Postpartum Doula – Informational Support
Doulas have a great deal of knowledge to share, and knowledge equals empowerment. A doula knows about a woman’s postpartum body, the changes it goes through, and how to care for it through the recovery period. She also knows about infants — their needs, what’s normal as far as feeding and sleep. She can teach mom how to bathe baby, techniques for soothing a fussy baby, how to properly position for sleep, and so much more. Doulas are also knowledgeable about breastfeeding. They can help troubleshoot any difficulties mom and baby may experience as they establish their breastfeeding relationship.
In addition to all of the knowledge and experience that a doula brings to the table, she also brings connection to other resources. Because of her work in the birth field, she will know where to find lactation consultants, support groups, medical providers, and other community supports that a new family needs.
Hiring a Postpartum Doula
If you decide to proceed with hiring a postpartum doula, you’ll want to ask for recommendations from friends and family, your doctor or midwife, or local mom groups. Then you’ll want to interview doulas to find one who feels like a comfortable fit for you. DONA has a great resource to help you know what questions to ask when interviewing potential doulas.
Cost of a Postpartum Doula
Most health insurance plans do not cover the services of a postpartum doula, so you’ll likely need to pay for it out of pocket. You should expect to pay around $25 – $40 an hour. This may seem like a lot, but many families find that the help is so valuable that they’re happy to save for the expense during the pregnancy.
Until recent times, families often lived in multi-generational homes, or at least had a village of experienced women to help welcome them into motherhood. These days, families are usually just a small nuclear-family group, and there aren’t as many hands around to help a new mom.
A doula can be a huge help to a first-time mom who is learning about mothering, breastfeeding, newborn care, and adjusting her life and schedules to the needs of her baby. And a doula can also be a huge help to a more experienced mom who already has kids but needs extra help as she recovers. If your budget allows for one, a doula may be one of the best things you can do for the bonding and establishment of your growing family.
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1. Glade, B.C., Schuler, J. (2011). Your Pregnancy Week by Week, 7th edition. First Da Capo Press
2. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month, 5th edition
3. DONA International. (2016, November 27). Doula Salary Higher for DONA Certified Doulas. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.dona.org/certification-still-matters-certified-doulas-earn-higher-fees-and-attract-more-clients/