WHAT POSTPARTUM DOULA SUPPORT LOOKS LIKE
Can I tell you a secret? While I’m so excited to support parents through pregnancy, labor, and birth, postpartum doula support is my passion.
Pregnancy and birth can be exciting and glamorous, but once the baby is born, a lot of the attention tends to either go to the baby or disappear entirely. Many of us live away from our extended families and lack social support structures. Even when we do have friends and family nearby, many of them don’t have the desire or knowledge to provide the hands-on work and support that new parents may need. Once the initial excitement is over and one partner goes back to work, new moms can feel increasingly isolated as they adjust to the demands of a new baby and their changing sense of themselves.
This is where postpartum doula support comes in. When I had our first son in January of 2010, I was struggling with nursing, and that particular child has never liked to sleep. My husband went back to work after a couple of weeks, and I have never been great at keeping up with social networks or asking for help. I was lucky to be invited to participate in a postpartum mom’s group run by a postpartum doula who was a part of our Bradley birth classes. The classes were weekly on Wednesdays and involved a nourishing breakfast, a discussion topic and/or just commiserating on what this journey was like. Sometimes we would go for a walk afterward, babies in strollers or Moby wraps.
These meetings were my lifeline in those first weeks postpartum, and I still keep in touch with many of the moms from that group. A bond was forged from bloody nipples and dirty diapers.
Many of us are in need of community, that safety net of women that carry us through the transition from woman to mother. Postpartum doula support can fill that void in our increasingly separate and hyper-busy society.
So what exactly does a postpartum doula do? Below I will walk you through some typical roles of a postpartum doula, as well as what a visit might look like depending on the time of day.
ROLES OF A POSTPARTUM DOULA
– Feeling/Listening. This is most salient immediately after the birth, but is important for *any* visit with a new mom. How is she feeling? How was her birth experience? What are her struggles? The doula’s job is to hold space for anything the parents may be going through. In some cases, the doula can provide a referral to a mental health professional if needed.
– Feeding. If the parents choose to breastfeed, a doula can help the family prepare for nursing and educate on proper latch. A doula can watch the nursing pair and listen for swallowing sounds. They can also suggest different nursing positions that may be more comfortable for mother or baby. Your doula can help to set up a nursing station for the nursing parent with water, snacks, and something to read. They can also normalize the nursing experience and remind parents to rest, eat, and sleep. (So easy to forget in those early days!) If needed, a doula can refer parents to an IBCLC if issues with nursing are outside the doula’s scope of work. If the parents are bottle feeding, a doula can provide education and experience regarding bottle types, feeding methods, and address any problems such as gas or colic.
– Sleep. One of the first things I ask my clients is how the whole family is sleeping. A doula can make suggestions to maximize everyone’s comfort and sleep, as well as provide information on safe co-sleeping if desired.
– Baby care. A doula is a great resource on anything from diaper rash to baths to baby wearing! If you have questions your doula can’t answer, she will research the answer for you. Many doulas are mothers themselves and have years of experience to draw from.
– Normalizing the newborn. Many normal newborn behaviors, such as erratic sleeping and eating, have been portrayed as problems to be solved in our increasingly scheduled society. In addition, newborn movements and skin tones can be worrisome to new parents. A doula can educate parents on the scope of normal newborn behaviors and appearances.
– Meals. A doula can help with meal preparation, bring prepared meals, or even grocery shop for new parents. Your doula can also help organize food drop offs and meal trains. A doula is an expert on the types of foods new moms most need, but will also cater to your family’s preferences and dietary requirements. Got a hankering for spaghetti and meatballs for your first postpartum meal? Coming right up!
– Light housekeeping. Postpartum doula support can include light housekeeping – sweeping, dusting, laundry, and washing dishes and bottles. Your doula can also help you unpack baby items and organize your nursery. I draw the line at scrubbing bathtubs, but maybe some doulas will do that too!
– Errands. I mentioned grocery shopping above, but a doula can also run other errands, like picking up items or taking the dog to day care.
– Pet care. Maybe not all postpartum doulas offer this, but I for one love taking care of pets! Dog guilt is REAL! I can play with, walk, or bathe your well-behaved dog or cat. Or I can hold the new baby while you pay attention to your first baby. I can also give advice about introducing your pets to your newborn.
– Boundaries. A doula can work with new parents to establish boundaries around visitation with friends and family. For example, helping to draft an email to potential visitors regarding the client’s needs and desires.
– Family Planning. As a full-spectrum doula, I can talk through contraception methods and provide resources if desired.
WHAT A TYPICAL POSTPARTUM SHIFT LOOKS LIKE
I offer four kinds of postpartum shifts in my practice. The things I do may, or may not, differ by time of day. First and foremost, I always meet my clients where they are. My first questions are:
– Have you eaten?
– Have you slept?
– Have you showered?
If I arrive at 9pm and they haven’t showered since yesterday? You’d better bet my first priority is helping them with that crucial piece of self-care. The following is just to give you an idea of what postpartum doula support might look like, and how each time of day may or may not meet your particular needs once your baby is born.
– Morning Shift (8am-12pm). If the family hasn’t had breakfast, I’ll throw something together so everyone is off on the right foot for the day. I’ll then ask how the night went, and help them rest if they didn’t sleep much the previous night. From there, I’ll ask what my client’s priorities are for the day and help them to set up a general routine (NOT a schedule since we know babies don’t honor those!). I can provide support with feeding the baby, help them plan meals or errands, or even run those errands for them.
– Afternoon Shift (1pm-5pm). First I’ll help prepare any snacks for the parents or other children and also make a plan for dinner. If the parents haven’t slept or showered recently, I’ll offer to hold the baby so they can do so. This is a great time to answer any newborn care questions, do some light house cleaning, or run errands. I can also help with feeding, a nap, or bath for the baby, or occupy your older kids while you get some rest.
– Evening Shift (5pm-9pm). Priority number one at this time of day is preparing dinner for the family and any snacks for the evening (especially for nursing parents!). I’ll help with dinner clean up, and maybe even prep for tomorrow’s breakfast so the morning goes smoothly. We’ll check in about how the day went, and help with baby’s bedtime routine. I can help you find a sleep routine that works for your whole family! This is another great time to answer any baby care questions, or prepare for supplemental feeding during the night if needed.
– Overnight Shift (9pm-7am or 10pm-8am). The first priority for everyone here is SLEEP! Often, all new parents need is one night of decent sleep. I can help with nighttime feedings, either feeding the baby with a bottle or bringing the baby to you when they wake. I will change and soothe the baby once they are fed. At the very least, I can provide some companionship and support for parents during the long, dark hours of the night. This is also a great time for light housekeeping (imagine a laundry fairy!). Finally, I’ll be sure to get some breakfast started before I leave!
Want to see if postpartum doula support is a good fit for your family? Connect with me to discuss further.
Hi, I'm Meagan.
I'm a full spectrum doula and wellness coach helping you thrive through birth, baby, and beyond. Learn more about me here.
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CERTIFIED DOULA (DTI)
Meagan is a full spectrum doula and wellness coach helping families follow their intuition to discover balance in family life. With her focus on ancestral practices, relaxation, and self care, she guides her clients to a calm, confident, and connected birth and postpartum experience.