Postpartum Doulas: Making a Difference One Family at a Time

In traditional cultures around the world, new mothers observe a lying in period for weeks after they give birth. During this time they rest and recover from birth, nurse their babies, and eat nutritious foods. The community comes together to cook and clean for them, care for their other children, take over whatever daily tasks they normally do. Mothers who enjoy this postpartum rest experience lower rates of postpartum depression and greater breastfeeding success.

I know you probably don’t have a village coming to help you when your baby comes, so consider cooking and freezing before baby is born. For ideas, do an internet recipe search for meals that freeze well. Tell friends and family who offer to help that you’ve registered at Meal Train, or ask them to bring a meal that freezes well to your shower. And take some time before the baby comes to hire a postpartum doula.

When most people hear the word doula, they think of professional labor support. But doulas also provide in home support after the baby comes. They can help with household tasks, provide reassurance and emotional support, and teach the skills that you need when living with a newborn: how to feed, hold, swaddle, diaper, and bathe your little one. ”Our doula was a calm, supportive, kind, loving presence who knew tons of wonderful tricks to soothe our little girl,” remembers Kelilyn McKeever, who shared with me how her doula helped after the birth of her first child. “After her first visit I felt so comfortable I scheduled another visit, and the next time she came I was able to sleep! It was wonderful. I learned so much from her, and it was fantastic to be able to talk things over with her since I only have one baby as my frame of reference and she has so many!! I would highly recommend a doula to other new moms. As it turns out, hiring a postpartum doula was amazing for us. It transformed our lives – my life especially.”

No one prepared me for how lonely you can feel as a new mum even though you’re never alone,” Lesley Walsh, a new mother told me. “I didn’t really know myself as I was adjusting to this new role. My doula gave me the confidence I needed that despite my inexperience, my parenting choices were right. She helped me feel like all of this was totally normal. I would TOTALLY recommend a doula to new parents without doubt. I’ve said to so many people that the greatest gift you can give a new family is a few hours of a doulas time. My doula is the best. I am incredibly grateful for the time she and I spent together.

Kimberly Bepler who runs ABC Doula Service in Portland, Oregon described a postpartum doula to me as “someone to teach you all about your newborn, help you recover after birth, fill all the gaps you are neglecting in your home and kitchen, and help you and your partner learn to navigate new parenthood with confidence. Doulas make life better for families with newborns, with skills, education and experience.“ If a family needs additional support, for example a lactation consultant or help with postpartum depression, their doula can make referrals to community providers.

“Postpartum Doulas are trained professionals that care for postpartum families physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Jodi Krentzman a doula at Hip to Heart in Massachusetts, explained to me. “I try stay ahead of the game by anticipating the wants and needs of the family before they have to ask.  I also troubleshoot any issues that arise with the baby (non-medical) and give them the tools to do the same when I am not there.”

Postpartum mothers are recovering from pregnancy and labor, and they are not sleeping through the night. Acclimating to life with a newborn is sometimes overwhelming. There are blissful and beautiful moments, but it is not all unicorns and rainbows. I spoke with Ann Tohill of Mountain Mama Doula. She sees her role as something that is “based on the family’s changing needs and varies day to day. I show up ready to take on whatever the family needs at that moment, whether it be a beautiful home cooked meal, fresh sheets on the bed, or someone to hold their baby while they shower or nap.”

Word of mouth is a great way to find a supportive, reliable doula. Ask your friends with kids who they recommend. Ask your childbirth educator, local La Leche League leader, prenatal yoga instructor, midwife, or pediatrician for suggestions. You want your doula to be certified with a reputable organization such as CAPPA or DONA, so checking their sites for help in your area is also a good strategy. Kimberly suggests, “call the doulas you are interested in and talk with them on the phone. Trust your gut. You will need to feel safe and nurtured and if your doula isn’t that way on the phone, she might not be a good fit for you.” Another doula I spoke with, Jill Reiter, who is known as The After Baby Lady, recommends “asking during an interview, ‘If we encounter an issue you don’t have experience with how can you support us?’ The answer should be something like I don’t have all the answers, but because of my training and/or certification I do have a network of resources I can tap into to help support you during different situations.”

“In addition to being wonderful with our daughter, the doula was looking out for me,” remembers Kelilyn, who describes her doula as incredible. “Home alone with a difficult baby my basic needs – like eating! – could get lost in the shuffle. Whenever our daughter napped, the doula would help with prep for the family dinner, laundry, unloading the dishwasher; it was another weight off my shoulders so I could relax and grab some desperately needed rest. As a new mom at home alone it’s easy to feel isolated and a doula really helps on that front as well. I wish we’d known so we could have had a postpartum doula come help us sooner.”

Julie Brill, IBCLC, CHLC, CCCE, CLD, CAPPA Faculty teaches independent childbirth and breastfeeding classes in the Boston area and via Skype, provides lactation consultations, and trains doulas and childbirth educators in New England for CAPPA. Her doula anthology, Round the Circle: Doulas Share Their Experiences, is available at Round the Circle and at Amazon. Julie is a La Leche League Leader and the mother of two teenage girls who were breastfed into toddlerhood.