It’s kind of a known fact that mothers-to-be are doted on, with people often giving up their seats, constant doctor visits, and nonstop offers to answer any one of your burning maternity questions. You can even seek help from a birthing doula to make sure you’re mentally and physically comfortable in every stage of pregnancy and labor. However, once the baby comes, new moms are thrust into this new role with little guidance and minimal check-ins. You’re often sent home and forced to navigate newfound motherhood and a healing body simultaneously. But even if you feel completely comfortable in your new role, it’s common for your needs to fall by the wayside. You might get offers to help with your little one, but the truth is, you’re not the one others are doting on anymore. Enter: The postpartum doula.
We already know that birth doulas are trained professionals who support parents through pregnancy and birth, but what happens during the so-called fourth trimester? We tapped Carson Meyer, doula, childbirth educator, and founder of C & The Moon, for the skinny on postpartum doulas.
First, what is a doula, and are they only trained to support birthing mothers?
Meyer tells us many types of doulas can support people in various aspects and stages of life. “You can seek out doula support for preconception support, pregnancy loss, pregnancy and birth and postpartum.” She also adds, “there are also death doulas who support people as they transition on the other end of life.”
“During labor, a doula is present either at home, the hospital, or a birthing center to provide physical and emotional support in a non-medical capacity. Doulas also advocate in the birth space to promote a safe and comfortable birth environment where their clients are being heard and needs are being met.” On the other hand, she says, “postpartum doulas continue to support parents after the birth and in their first steps into parenthood.” In other words, doulas make the initial leap into your first moments in childcare feel less overwhelming.
What is the specific role of a postpartum doula?
When you have a newborn at your hip (and on your breasts), it can feel impossible to take care of yourself. “A postpartum doula is someone who cares for the mother during the postpartum period,” says Meyer. “She may provide nourishing meals, Ayurvedic massage (Abhyanga), support with breastfeeding, help with tasks around the house, and provide newborn care.” Finally, she adds, “what makes a postpartum doula different from a baby nurse is that a doula is there to care for the mother so that she can best care for her baby.”
Can a postpartum doula help with postpartum depression?
One major side effect of pregnancy is postpartum depression. Seeing as how your hormones take a hit, your life is flipped upside down, and you’re physically and mentally exhausted, it can easily be expected. A doula can be there to help you be less susceptible to it. Meyer explains, “one of the greatest risk factors for postpartum depression is lack of sleep and lack of support. It is also very important for new mothers to be nourishing themselves with healthy foods after giving birth to keep their energy levels up.” Since low energy levels and malnourishment can contribute to postpartum depression, having someone look after these details can be a godsend. She also adds, “doulas can also detect early signs of postpartum depression and help the mother (or father) get the guidance they need early on.”
What makes a person qualified to be a doula, and how do I safely hire an experienced professional?
Unlike doctors or registered nurses, Meyer says, “since doulas provide non-medical support, there is not a governing body that defines a doula’s qualifications. Doulas generally attend formal training or mentorships.” She tells us, “some agencies offer certification but becoming certified is not required.” It goes without saying that you’d want to find someone qualified and safely hire a professional, but truthfully, a certificate is not the way to measure potential success in the doula world. Meyer suggests word of mouth is the best way to find a doula. She advises polling people in your community, friends, midwives, acupuncturists, yoga teachers, lactation consultants, and others in your circle for recommendations. If you still can’t find one, she says, “there is also a wonderful new online resource called Akin that you can use to reach for doulas and other maternal health providers.”
Finally, before hiring, she says, “I also think an in-person interview is really important. You want to be sure you get a good feel for the person and their approach. You can also ask to connect with a past client for reference.”
How long do I need a doula, and are they expensive?
Meyer says the timeline for postpartum doulas varies depending on each family’s circumstances. “I think it is ideal to have a postpartum doula begin within 24 hours of giving birth, and four to eight weeks is generally the amount of time one works with a postpartum doula.” As for the day-to-day, she says, “doula support can be a couple of times a week for a few hours, all day long every day of the week or even though the night.” It really just comes down to how much support you think you may need. Also, note that it may be a good idea to have a doula most in the beginning and wean off the support slowly at the end of your time together.
Meyer admits it can be expensive to work with doulas. She explains, “the rate depends on where you are and who you’re working with.” However, she shares a great tip to help afford the bill. “I always recommend that my clients include a postpartum support fund on their baby shower registry. Having friends and family pitch in for postpartum support is arguably the best gift a new mom and baby could ever receive. Little Honey Money, coming soon, is an awesome site for exactly that.”
Do I really need a postpartum doula?
Of course, it takes some evaluation with your inner circle and personal circumstances to decide for yourself. If it’s in the budget, having someone give you back rubs and cook for you sounds pretty incredible. However, if you already have a mother, sister, friend or mother-in-law (or all) willing to take on that role, maybe you don’t. Meyer says, “I believe anyone and everyone can benefit from a postpartum doula, especially those who don’t have a ton of support from friends and family. Doulas are experienced in helping each family find their own unique way of thriving. There is not a one size fits all approach. Parenting takes a village and was never intended to be done alone.”
In the end, women have raised their children and allowed nature to heal their bodies for centuries. It’s just good to know you have options, but know this: you got this mama.