When I tell people that I’m a Postpartum Doula and the responsibilities that entails, I hear far too often – “Where were you when I needed you?”. While both birth and postpartum doulas have been around for quite some time, Postpartum Doulas have more recently gained popularity.
The Role of a Postpartum Doula
The definition of a Postpartum Doula is as follows: A postpartum doula is a professional support person trained in the needs of the family in the days, weeks and months after birth or the addition of a new baby. The doula offers non-judgmental support, guidance, evidence-based education, and practical hands-on support immediately after birth through the first year. Doula originates from the Greek word meaning woman servant.
The period after birth is what we call the “Fourth Trimester”. This is a time period where not only is the newborn adjusting to life outside of the womb, but the adults caring for them are also transitioning into a new role. The postpartum period looks different for everybody and the role I play as their doula during this stage varies based on each individual need. The ultimate goal is to help not only the mother but the family unit as a whole foster maximum self-determination. My role is not to do everything for them, but instead support them so they have the confidence to know they CAN do it on their own.
During this period, there are prominent aspects that I give specific attention to. These include: emotional support, physical comfort of the mother, self-care, infant care, education, partner support, sibling support, referrals, and household organization. Though I focus on each of these aspects with every client, my role as their doula looks different for each one. I must assess their specific needs depending on their individualized preferences and provide evidence based information for the mother to make the best informed decision regarding what is best for herself and her baby.
Anything outside my scope of practice requires a referral, as doulas are not medical professionals. This includes having a rolodex of professionals including certified lactation consultants, postpartum therapists, physical therapists specializing in women’s reproductive systems including before, during and after labor into the postpartum period, among many others.
As their doula, my focus is on “mothering the mother”, meaning I ensure that self-care is foremost, especially if a new mother has had a cesarean section. Proper nutrition, rest, and fluids are top priority. I am a companion, always there to listen in a non-judgmental environment and ready to provide resources, referrals and options to decrease feelings of worry/concern, stress, and segregation from life before they gave birth.
Why Work with a Postpartum Doula?
Women have been nurtured and cared for since the beginning of time from various individuals including family, neighbors, and friends. There are numerous benefits that come from being supported by a Postpartum Doula, much like the support for those in your tribe. Mothers and partners do not feel so alone and gain confidence with the help of a doula, as the doulas role is to affirm that these individuals are right on track. Showing your confidence in them allows them to grow more confidence in themselves and trust the decisions that they are making.
Having a Postpartum Doula assists not only in instilling confidence but also helps the parent truly understand their newborn. The first 5-7 days are an extreme roller coaster, with hormonal changes and body recovery, all the while getting to know a new member or members of the family. I help those caring for the newborn learn how to interpret cries, body language, reflexes, and those super sweet baby sounds that occur. With wisdom and gentleness, as your Postpartum Doula, I am able to guide you through this journey!
A Day (or Night) in the Life of a Postpartum Doula
Doulas work around the clock because let’s face it, newborns do everything on their own terms. They eat when they want, they sleep when they want, and we are there to make sure they are happy! Every single day and every single shift is different. Many doulas choose to work minimum 3-4 hour shifts, though I work as little or as much (up to 8 hours) as my client desires. I chose to provide my shifts in 60 minute increments due to no limitations on self-care. If a new mother is having some anxiety about leaving her newborn but just really wants to get a pedicure, I am there. If she wants to take a nice, long, hot shower and know her newborn is well cared for, I am there. If she just wants to enjoy a coffee alone, I am there.
I always check in with a client before arriving to see if there is anything they need me to pick up for them. Some place grocery orders and I pick them up on the way, some simply want an iced latte. Some have medication that they have not been able to pick up, and some simply say no thanks. First two things I always do upon arrival is remove my shoes and wash my hands.
Depending on the needs of the client, a typical shift consists of A LOT of baby wearing. Sometimes I wash bottles and fold laundry while wearing the baby. Sometimes I simply sit and listen to my client talk about their fears and concerns while bouncing on a medicine ball with their newborn in my arms. Active listening is the key, as you are there solely for them, to guide them, to support them, to listen to them, to validate their feelings and concerns.
Sometimes, the mother just gives me a few instructions and cannot wait to leave for a few hours! I wash a lot of bottles, fold a lot of baby clothes, and get spit up on A LOT! I show new mothers how to engage their baby to properly open their mouth for a successful latch when they are having breastfeeding issues, I place breastmilk into baggies and properly label them and wash pumping supplies. I support new mothers who are having difficulties breastfeeding and refer them to some amazing certified lactation consultants.
Working an overnight shift means a lot of newborn snuggles! I love working overnight shifts, the main reason being I know how exhausting it can be and being able to provide support for new parents in the form of getting uninterrupted sleep is priceless. Whether it be snuggling a newborn all night who will not sleep otherwise, to feeding and changing them on cue, to light household chores that do not cause a disruption; overnight shifts are very rewarding. The most rewarding part is when morning comes and one or both of the parents look well rested and are beyond elated that they got more than two hours of sleep without having to get up.
Becoming a Postpartum Doula has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. It is far beyond just a career. Nothing compares to knowing you are making a difference in the lives of others at their most vulnerable times. These individuals invite us Doulas into their lives and their homes, and in turn, we provide them with invaluable support that allows them to be the best they can be.
Wendy Quast is a Postpartum Doula and the founder of Seattle Day Doula. She has over twenty years of hands-on childcare experience and received her postpartum certification from Bastyr University. Interested in working with Wendy? Book visits using this link or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org