You’ve heard the word - but what does a doula actually do?
Fertility, birth, antenatal, postpartum - there’s a doula for everyone and for every reason! Let’s delve into the world of postpartum doulas - those who support parents in the year after the baby arrives - and take a peek into what an average shift looks like.
Many people know what a birth doula is, but not many people know you can hire a doula to help you transition into your early days and weeks postpartum.
If you would love guidance, feeding support, emotional processing, nourishing meals that you don’t have to cook, or simply peace of mind and reassurance once your baby arrives, a postpartum doula may be beneficial to you and your family.
In this post, we will describe an average shift between a newly post-birth family and their postpartum doula.
What is a Postpartum Doula?
A postpartum doula is a support person, specially trained in the care of post-birth people and their families, who is hired to ease the transition from pregnancy or adoption into early postpartum.
The term “postpartum” does not refer to postpartum depression - it simply means the time period following the birth or adoption of a baby. A postpartum doula can benefit any family with a new baby, regardless of postpartum depression diagnosis or lack thereof.
What can a doula do for you?
A postpartum doula can provide many resources for birthing people or adoptive parents, such as newborn care demonstrations, current evidence-based best practices for new parents, local groups and organizations for specialized support and consultations, holistic care and mindfulness offerings, emotional support, birth story processing, infant feeding and nursing support, meal prep, and an extra set of hands, amongst other areas of interest.
Whatever your specific needs, a postpartum doula will provide you with the tools and tips to make sure your postpartum period is smooth and peaceful.
What Would a Postpartum Doula Shift Look Like?
[The following is an example of an average postpartum support shift within my personal practice, Upon Arrival (www.uponarrivaldoula.com)]
This example describes a pumping/combo-feeding family, consisting of first-time parents (referred to as "Mom" and "Dad") with a 1 week old baby girl (referred to as "Baby"), supported by a female, holistically-minded doula trained in Ayurveda (referred to as "The Doula") - but no matter what your specific needs or situation, there is a doula out there for you to help make sure that your postpartum days go as smoothly and as confidently as possible.
10:00am: The Doula Arrives
A 3 hour shift starts as the doula arrives to the client’s home ready to begin the day. She washes her hands and asks how the night went. Mom and Dad say it was okay but could have been better. The doula sits on the couch as Mom feeds the baby and Dad asks questions about baby sleep. The doula gives evidence-based information on how to gently set up a solid sleep environment for Baby while keeping a realistic mindset and following Baby’s lead. Mom asks a question about pain while nursing, so the doula asks to check baby's latch. The doula gives a peek as Mom latches baby onto the opposite breast, suggests a few adjustments (showing her using breastfeeding visuals), and a few minutes later she is comfortable and happy with the sensation of a deeper latch. She thanks the doula and finishes up her nursing session, handing Baby off to Dad to do the special rolling-pat burp technique the doula taught him during the last support session. Baby gives a large, satisfied belch, and Dad hands her back to Mom before giving them both a kiss and heading off to work. Time to begin Mom's first day home alone with the new baby! Good thing she has her doula here to help her find her footing.
10:15am: Talk, Shower, Nap, or Eat
Once Dad is out the door, the doula quickly puts on a load of laundry that she noticed next to the washer, makes Mom a cup of tea and sits down to decide on the order of events for the day. She asks her usual "do you want to talk, shower, nap, or eat?" Mom says she has some things she wants to get off her chest but then would really like to take a shower and get some rest after the rough night they had. The doula listens as Mom tells the story of her birth, which didn't go exactly as she imagined. The doula doesn't interrupt - she knows it's important for space to be held for birth stories. Once Mom has finished the story, the doula asks how she feels about it. The doula notices that Mom uses many positive words with just a few negative descriptors. They do some reframing exercises and use some relevant postpartum mantras and breathwork to process the story together. Once Mom is ready to move on, she finishes her tea and hands Baby over to the doula. Mom goes into the en suite bathroom, taking with her some of the sitz bath herbs the doula has brought over to soothe herself beforehand, and proceeds to take a shower and then a well-deserved nap.
10:45am: Blissful Baby Spa Bath
Mom had requested that she'd love for the doula to give Baby a bath today - she loves the soothing spa bath technique that the doula showed her and Dad last time! Dad had said he loves how it can be his special bonding time with Baby. However, Dad is at work and Baby is overdue for a rinse, so today it's Doula Bath Duty! The doula undresses Baby and wraps her in a cotton swaddle blanket. Then the doula brings her into the bathroom, lays her in the baby bath inside the tub, checks the water temperature, and begins to rinse Baby through the swaddle, unwrapping here and there to add soap and scrub as needed. Baby doesn't make a peep during the whole soothing process - it must remind her of the peace of being in the womb! - until, of course, the doula lifts her out of the tub ("WAAH! That's cold!") and quickly wraps her in a warm towel. The doula uses some of the “5 S's” for soothing (a technique she showed Dad last session - he rocked it!), and as Baby calms down the doula changes into the clean diaper and pajamas she had laid out prior to bathtime (preparation is key to minimizing baby protests!) The doula starts to notice some sleepy signals that Baby is giving her - rubbing eyes and blank stares - time for a nap, Baby! The doula sees the stretchy wrap carrier that she showed Mom how to use during their last session nearby - Mom had said earlier that she's getting the hang of it and Baby's a big fan! - and she wraps the little one up for her nap. Baby is still a bit too young to be expected to be on a set nap schedule in her bassinet, so a "wrap nap" is perfect.
11:30am: Nourishing Meal Prep
Baby falls asleep as the doula pulls out the ingredients for the meal Mom and Dad requested she make from her postpartum meals cookbook: carrot fennel soup with dill oil. Baby snoozes away while she makes enough soup for Mom's lunch and some leftover to keep on hand for Dad when he gets home and for lunch the next day. She also preps some oat & almond butter power balls - a quick, lactation-supportive grab and go snack for later - and some warm golden milk for Mom to have with her soup when she wakes up.
12:00pm: Tidy Time
While the soup cooks and Baby naps in the carrier, the doula takes some time to tidy up the kitchen. She notices the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, so she unloads those and re-loads the few dishes in the sink. She rinses the bottles, pump parts, and pacifiers she finds in the sink and puts them in a pot to sterilize. While they boil, she wipes down all the countertops and the kitchen table, and puts away all the ingredients she used for the meal she’s made. Once the bottles are done and cooled off, she moves them to the drying rack and puts away the pot. The soup is now done cooking, so she pours it into some storage containers, leaving one out on the counter for Mom's lunch. She leaves the kitchen cleaner than she found it, and continues onto the rest of the house. She switches over the laundry, and then tidies up the living room, dining room, bathroom, and nursery, wiping down surfaces and picking up as needed, all while Baby naps to the soothing white noise of the vacuum. Once the laundry is finished, she sits down to fold it and put it away.
12:45pm: Check-In & Wrap-Up
Mom emerges from her bedroom, refreshed and ready for her afternoon. Baby is still sleeping in the wrap, so the doula gives Mom her golden milk and warm up a bowl of soup, served with a big hunk of bread for dipping. Mom enjoys her lunch while soaking her feet in the special blend of Epsom salts and calendula flowers her doula brought along (great for reducing postpartum swelling), mixed with soothing warm water. They chat for a bit about "witching hour" tips for use later that evening and, just as she's finishing up eating, Baby begins to rustle and is ready for her next feeding. The doula help Mom out of the foot bath and clean up as she takes Baby for a nursing session on the couch. Before heading out, the doula brings Mom a glass of water and makes sure her nursing station has the remote and her cell phone nearby. She then double-checks Baby's latch at Mom's request - they're doing great! - and asks about any topics Mom would like to cover for next time. Mom lists a few local resource and informational requests, and her doula jots them down - she will send the resources to Mom in the session recap email later this evening. The doula makes sure to remind Mom that there are plenty of meals to choose from in the freezer to heat up for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow (thanks to the meal train the doula helped the family set up before Baby arrived). Mom and Baby are fed and content, ready to take on their afternoon, and the house is clean and tidy for them to enjoy. The doula heads out for the day, eager for their next session later that week, when she will bring her portable massage table to provide an hour of bodywork, followed by the bellybinding session that Mom requested. Another great day helping mamas in the books!
A Doula for Everyone
In short, a postpartum doula can provide a smooth transition from pregnancy to postpartum for first time parents and seasoned parents alike. The proverbial “village” of old is just a phone call away - contact your local postpartum doula today and build your very own!
Have you used a postpartum doula? Comment below and share your experience!