Whenever I’m asked about my profession, I often hear: “I wish I had known there was someone who did that when I had my babies!”
I am a certified postpartum doula.
More and more people in this country are becoming familiar with the role of the birth doula and the profession has been gradually expanding in recent years, but the role of the postpartum doula is less familiar. So what do birth and postpartum doulas have to offer and what might entice parents-to-be or new parents to hire one?
According to DONA, an international, professional organization that educates and certifies doulas, “a birth doulas is a trained professional who provide[s] continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to a mother before, during, and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.” A birth doula teaches tools such as breathing techniques to increase relaxation and ease pain; she provides encouragement, as well as evidence-based information, when asked, to help parents make informed decisions. She is a continuous presence with a birthing mother even when nurses change shifts. She can also be a source of support for partners who may be unsure about what to expect during the birthing process.
Women have historically tended to turn to other women during childbirth. This is still true in many parts of the world…
There is a large body of scientific evidence that links the continuous presence of a doula during birth to more positive outcomes for mother and baby: less use of analgesics for pain, a lower c-section rate, and a shorter time in labor.
Typically a birth doula meets with parents before birth to get to know the parents and their preferences and desires for the birth: does mom want to use pain meds or not? Who does she want to be with her during childbirth? Does she plan to breastfeed or not?
Besides being a continuous presence during the birth at the hospital, birth center, or at home, the birth doula will often check in with the family following the birth to answer questions and provide resources.
As with the birthing process, there are traditions in many parts of the world to support the new mother, enabling her to rest and recover from childbirth, as well as focus on bonding with and feeding her baby. In the U.S., moms returning home with their babies may have little support. Family members may live far away. Her partner or spouse may have to return to work after a short time. And mom may have had major surgery – a cesarian – and is only sleeping 2-3 hours at a time if she’s lucky. And of course, this may be the first time that parents have ever cared for a newborn!
This is where postpartum doulas enter the scene. We come to the home and teach parents how to care for their newborn, help mom get off to a good start with breastfeeding or overcome hurdles, and we provide referrals when needed. We’re present for emotional support and look after baby while mom showers or catches some Zs. Some postpartum doulas will prepare meals for the family, run errands, grocery shop, and do baby’s laundry. Some of us also do overnight shifts.
As the saying goes, “It takes a village.” and no mom should have to be without caring and nurturing support during or after childbirth. Birth and postpartum doulas can contribute greatly to a sense of peace and satisfaction with the birthing process and once the parents are home with their newborn(s).
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