I am a doula. But if you had told me 10 years ago that I’d someday be a doula, I might have laughed in your face. In my mind, a doula was a "crunchy" woman who thought natural birth was the best way to have a baby, and wanted to help other women have a natural birth, too. That just wasn’t something I cared much about at the time. Though my previous view of doulas is kinda-sorta-partly true (we are varying levels of "crunchy," support ALL types of birth, and believe that interventions are useful and necessary at times), I have learned over the past few years that there is so much more to being a doula!
A doula is a person who provides non-medical practical and emotional support. Most commonly, a doula offers support during labor/birth. But there are also postpartum doulas, antepartum (pregnancy) doulas, bereavement/loss doulas, abortion doulas, and end-of-life doulas. I’ve also heard of doulas who offer support for post-surgery, everyday life, siblings (during labor), divorce, family crisis, deployment, adoption/fostering, surrogacy, fertility, moving, wellness/fitness, delirium, ICU, NICU, mental health crisis, and more.
It wasn’t until after I’d already had two of my babies that I heard about the concept of a Postpartum Doula. A friend of mine who owned a doula agency, told me she was adding a postpartum doula to her group. I asked what a postpartum doula was, and was floored when I heard her response. WHY had I not heard of this concept?! I would have hired a postpartum doula in a heartbeat after each of my first two kids were born! And, also… This might just be my dream job!
So, what exactly does a postpartum doula do? Well, basically… I do what you’d want your mom to do after you have a baby, but… with a neutral and objective perspective and recent education/training on all things postpartum. As a doula, I would come to your home and do the dishes, laundry, and other things you don’t have time for when you’re feeding a baby every two hours and trying to recover from a MAJOR physical and emotional life event. I care for your baby so you can get a solid three hours of sleep after being up literally all night. I answer questions like, “Is this rash/crying/poop/pain/(insert 852 other possible things) normal?” I listen. I give you assurance that you’re doing a great job. I guide you through the learning curve of breastfeeding and/or pumping and/or bottle feeding. I bring you a sandwich while you’re sitting on the couch feeding your baby for what seems like six hours straight because all you had time to do between the last few feedings was go to the bathroom, change your underwear, and quickly brush your teeth. I ask you about your birth. I listen. I do my best to put the towels and dishes away the same way you do it (this is important for my fellow OCDers). I look around for little things that need to be done, so that you don’t have to think about it. (Like refill the baby wipes container, change the toilet paper roll, refill your water bottle, and let the dog back in.) I listen. I offer non-medical advice & suggestions, but only when asked, and always in a non-judgmental and unbiased way. I watch for signs of postpartum depression, because sometimes it’s not so obvious. I ask how you’re feeling physically and emotionally. And… I LISTEN.
The amount of support a postpartum doula provides differs, depending on each individual family’s needs. Some postpartum doulas offer overnight care. (This will cost you more money, of course. But believe me, there will probably be times in those early months that you’d be willing to pay ANY amount for a good night’s sleep!) Most postpartum doulas provide daytime care, too. This could be anywhere from about 3 hours to about 6 hours, depending on the family and the doula’s availability. It could be daily, three days a week, two days a week, or any number your family desires! Often families will want more support in the first few weeks, then want it to taper off by the 3 or 4 month mark. Some families might only need support that first night home from the hospital, when they’re going from having nurses constantly “on call” to care for them and answer questions to suddenly being spit out into the world to do this big new scary parenting thing all alone. Some families (like those with twins/multiples) might want some amount of support until the 6 month mark, or whenever the parents begin to get SOME precious sleep at night.
One of the most important things to know about postpartum doulas is that we are skilled at becoming attuned to your individual family’s needs. We’ll work together with you before services begin to figure out how much and what type of support you might need. And we’ll be as flexible as possible if changes need to be made regarding your care.
I love being a doula, and I especially love it when I get to work as a postpartum doula. Being allowed into a family’s life during such a pivotal and vulnerable time is amazing. I wish every family could have a postpartum doula after having a new baby. Who knows – maybe someday doulas will be a routine part of our healthcare system! But until then, I’ll do my best to help one family at a time.