Nurturing Help for Your Family: Whether you’re expecting your first or third baby, every mom benefits from postpartum care.
It’s 8 a.m., and you’re already wondering how you’ll make it through the day. You’ve been up since 5:30 a.m. nursing and rocking your fussy baby after a night of broken sleep. You’re not sure how you’ll ever take a shower, let alone fix some breakfast. Your body aches from labor and delivery, and you would love a sympathetic shoulder to cry on as well as someone to answer your nagging questions about caring for yourself and your baby.
To the rescue – the postpartum doula. She whisks in, brings you a cup of tea and something to eat, and then takes the baby from your tired arms. You get the chance to rest while someone else handles things for a while. By the time your doula leaves, you’ve showered and napped – and feel much more confident in your role as a mom.
What is a Postpartum Doula?
You may have heard of prenatal or labor doulas, but there are also doulas who specialize in postpartum support. Postpartum doulas are nonmedical assistants who help mothers transition into life with a newborn by providing in-home care, usually for three to four hours at a time. They care for the baby and older siblings, perform household chores, run errands, provide breastfeeding support or just let the new mom take a nap or have a good cry.
A postpartum doula supports the new and fragile family as they learn the rhythms of their baby, explains Micky Jones, a local postpartum doula. She helps to provide emotional, physical and informational assistance so the mother can focus on resting and bonding with her baby. “My most important job is empowering parents to know their baby,” she says. Doulas can answer parents’ questions about handling a newborn and provide information on local resources. They are also trained to watch for signs of postpartum depression.
Why Families Need Postpartum Help
Most new parents are caught off guard by how overwhelming the postpartum time can be. During pregnancy, they had read about preparing for a child,
attended childbirth and baby care classes and prepared the layette. Unfortunately, many books and classes for expectant parents don’t touch upon the incredible emotional and physical demands of caring for a newborn and why new parents should consider seeking postpartum help.
In their book, The Postpartum Survival Guide (New Harbinger Publishing), authors Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., and Diane G. Sanford, Ph.D., describe the truth about postpartum: “The reality is that becoming a parent is a considerable task. The new mother’s body appears to have gone haywire; her hormones fluctuate greatly. She is tired beyond belief and suffering from sleep deprivation.
“The new mother is in a physically vulnerable state from these changes and from the enormous physical stress of childbirth. Then, after a couple days of rest, if she’s lucky, she is put in charge of meeting another human being’s needs before tending to any of her own.”
We used to care for postpartum families much differently than we do today. Communities would rally around new families by providing practical help – like bringing meals – and emotional support in the form of mother mentoring from either female relatives or other seasoned mothers in the community. Nowadays, new mothers are often isolated from such support and don’t know where to turn for assistance.
“Postpartum doulas are very important for some families and more of a ‘treat’ for others,” says Jones. “For mothers who have no local help – no relatives, church family or close friends near by – a postpartum doula can be a lifesaver. First-time mothers appreciate the knowledge and encouragement that a doula offers to the family. Postpartum doulas can be a special treat for a mother who does have outside help, but doesn’t want to be a burden on them or does not want pressure to do things a certian way.”
Benefits of a Postpartum Doula
“I have worked with more than 100 families for more than 13 years and have helped new mothers with twins, preemies, first, second and third babies,” says Jeannie Casey of Nashville Childbirth. She states many advantages to postpartum doula care, including breastfeeding assistance, a reduced chance of infant dehydration and hospitalization, less risk of maternal exhaustion, reduction in unnecessary calls to the pediatrician and less anxiety when the partner returns to work since they know Mom is receiving help at home.
Some doulas offer special expertise such as massage therapy, vegetarian cooking or babyproofing. There are also doula services that provide overnight care. But one of the most important and simple things a doula does is listen to a new mother’s concerns. Sabrina Flynn, a first-time mom whose mother encouraged her to hire a postpartum doula, says, “The doulas I had were good listeners. They didn’t tell me what I should be doing; they just listened to me. It was wonderful.”
Cindy Levine-Rind hired a doula when she came home after the birth of her son, Josh. “I had no idea how difficult it would be,” she says of her postpartum time. “My doula taught me what to do to care for the baby, gave me time to sleep and to recover from a difficult birth.”
Many parents hire a doula for subsequent babies to help them adjust to the changes every new child brings. Jennifer Davis already had a 3-year-old when she gave birth to twins. “There were a lot of nursing issues that came up with the twins that hadn’t with my first child,” says Davis. “Janet (my doula) was able to help me sort through various options and also hooked me up with a lactation consultant who was very helpful.”
Planning for Support
On average, postpartum doulas cost between $15 – $25 an hour. If financing is a budget concern for you, there are ways to work it out. For shower or baby gifts ask friends and family to donate to a doula fund, or have them purchase gift certificates for doula services. Often doulas can arrange a financing plan for you so that you can spread out your payments.
Marquita Evans of After Birth Care Doulas in Nashville advises expectant families to plan ahead. If they know they will need help, such as a family having twins or a planned C-section, she likes to meet with them ahead of time to set up scheduling. “When moms first come home, they tend to need more help,” Evans says.
“My goal is not to help past 12 weeks postpartum as a doula unless there’s a special situation such as postpartum depression.” By three months, she explains, mothers should be adjusted – feeling comfortable with the new baby and back into a routine.
Finding the Right Fit
When looking for a postpartum doula, “it’s good to ask friends who have had a baby, and ask area midwives or labor/birth doulas who provide postpartum services,” Jones says. Postpartum doulas do not have to be certified, she says. Some labor/birth doulas and midwives add postpartum services to the other services they offer.
Postpartum doula certifications vary and can be obtained from several organizations including Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals of America, BirthWorks, Doulas of North America and Global Birth Institute, says Jones. They generally involve attending a one- or two-day workshop, required readings, specific hours of service, recommendations and a final test.
An Investment in Your Family
Don’t hesitate to seek help during the postpartum period. It’s not a sign of weakness, but of strength, to get the nurturing you need during this overwhelming time. You can’t give from an empty place, and it won’t help anyone if you are depleted. Jane Honikman, the Founding Director of Postpartum Support International, encourages new parents to see hiring a postpartum doula as an “investment” in their families. The payoff is a more confident and rested mom who is better able to tackle motherhood’s challenges.
Melanie Bowden is a writer, postpartum doula and mother of two. She’s currently working on a book titled The Postpartum Family Plan.
FINDING A POSTPARTUM DOULA:
Your obstetrician, midwife, pediatrician, local baby store, parenting groups or moms you know are good places to inquire about postpartum help. Also visit the following websites:
• Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals of America (CAPPA), www.cappa.net
• Doula Network, www.doulanetwork.com/directory
• Doula World, www.doulaworld.com
• Doulas of North America (DONA), www.dona.org
• La Leche League International, www.lalecheleague.org
• National Association of Postpartum Care Services, www.napcs.org
• Postpartum Support International, www.postpartum.net