What Does a Postpartum Doula Do?
Picture this: you’ve given birth a couple days ago to your first baby. The hospital has given you the “a-ok” to be discharged and you’re heading home with your newborn. The hospital just lets you go, on your way home, as a family of three. You and your partner, are alone with you little one for the first time. No more nurses or doctors checking on you while you’re at home- you’re totally on your own.
For many, this transition can be pretty scary, and nerve wracking. When taking care of an infant all by yourself, so many questions can pop up: why is he crying? is he warm enough? has he had enough to eat? is he sleeping too much? why isn’t he going to sleep? when do I get a break? And last but not least… if I’m feeding the baby, who’s going to feed me?
All of these questions are totally normal, and as doulas we hear them all the time from our clients. Coming home with a newborn is a huge lifestyle change. Each baby is different, so there isn’t a one size fits all manual for baby care. Navigating your child’s nuances as you’re getting to know each other is quite magical and exceptional, all at the same time being completely foreign and unknown. You will learn to interpret your baby’s signals and cues, and you will work together as a team- there just may be a learning curve in getting there. Again, this is totally normal, even expected.
It’s within this landscape the Postpartum Doula does her work. A Postpartum Doula assists families within, typically, the first three months following a baby’s birth. It may be longer for some, depending on the family’s needs. The Postpartum Doula helps families settle in at home, after being discharged from the hospital. This could include everything from breastfeeding support, hands on coaching for newborn care, teaching swaddling techniques, or even helping to wake a sleepy baby if it’s time to feed.
The magical thing about Postpartum Doulas is that they not only help with newborn care, they also help take care of mom, while she rests and heals from the birth. The way Postpartum Doulas assist in “mothering the mother” is by creating nourishing meals, preparing sitz baths for perineum healing, taking care of the baby so mom can get a much needed nap or shower, and by talking with mom- and listening. Postpartum Doulas are amazing listeners. After giving birth, there is so much to process, on the identity level, physical level, and emotional level, that having an understanding and compassionate ear is so nutruting.
In addition to taking care of mother and baby, Postpartum Doulas also attend to the needs of the family. This may include checking in to see how dad or the other parent is doing, and seeing what their needs are- perhaps helping them to get a nap in as well. If there are other children at home, sibling care might because an important aspect of the work dynamic- after all they are having their own adjustments to their new brother or sister too!
These are a few ways Postpartum Doulas support the whole family in the weeks and months following a baby’s birth. The duration and length of a postpartum shift is totally up to the family and their needs. Daytime sessions are usually around 4 hours, though could be longer. Overnight sessions are typically 10 hours, as this gives time for some hands on teaching and support before the parents head to bed to get some much needed rest.