The postpartum period is often an overlooked and neglected part of preparing to welcome a new arrival. People are often motivated to prepare for birth because their primary image of childbirth from television has built an image of intense terror. But the postpartum period is full of just as many hardships and difficulties that will last far longer than labor will. A postpartum doula helps new parents and families bridge the gap between their expectation and reality. The work of a postpartum doula is a varied and difficult to explain because the postpartum period is varied and difficult to explain, but here are some of the ways a postpartum doula can support you.
New mothers and families often receive a lot of physical support in the first week or two after baby is born. Grandparents will rush over to marvel at the youngest addition to their family tree, and friends and neighbors might bring some food by, often as a trade off for being able to see the new squishy baby face and catch a whiff of the new baby smell. While these offers for help are nice, many postpartum mothers can find themselves feeling like they need to entertain their visitors instead of properly recovering and bonding with their child.
A postpartum doula’s role is to support you, so you should never feel the need to take care of your doula. Your doula is an expert at filling into your needs in the moment. She can make sure you have been eating nutritious meals, help you catch up on the laundry you need to get done, or empty your sink of the dishes you haven’t been able to get to. Although she is not a medical professional, she can also help your physical recovery through suggestions to ease any aches or pains leftover from delivery. Your doula can also show you how to attend to the needs of your newborn through showing you how to swaddle, walking you through a diaper change, or training you how to use your baby carrier.
Overnight doula support can also help you get some much needed sleep, so you can rest, recover, and feel rejuvenated for the next day of parenting. Overnight care can be especially helpful with newborn twins or while recovering from a C-section when you might not be as mobile or quick to respond to your baby’s nighttime needs. Your doula does not replace you as the mother, but supports your nighttime parenting by bringing your baby to you for a night snack and is then responsible for diapering or any other baby needs.
A recent survey found that before birth, mothers were most worried about and prepared for their physical needs postpartum, but after baby was born, they found they most wanted and did not get the emotional support that they needed. After delivery, the hormone’s needed to nourish and maintain a healthy pregnancy rapidly change, causing what is often referred to as “the baby blues” or may even develop into a postpartum mood disorder. As the days, weeks, and months go on, many parents feel lonely, isolated, and incredibly vulnerable.
A postpartum doula can help encourage you emotionally through being a non-judgmental ear to listen and help you process your birth and parenting difficulties. A postpartum doula will support you in your parenting decisions and help you build your confidence as a parent. Many new parents also feel like they have lost their sense of self or identity as they suddenly have to turn all their attention to keeping a tiny new human healthy, happy, and alive. Many new mothers may feel lost as other people’s focus shifts from her pregnant self to the newborn. But a doula makes sure that someone is remembering and looking out for the needs and well-being of the mother.
It seems once a person is pregnant, everyone has an opinion about everything. People that would never give you a second glance suddenly have very strong opinions about breastfeeding, sleep training, or pacifiers, and these same people feel the need to “educate” you on their opinions while you’re waiting in the checkout line to buy your third bottle of TUMs for the week, laxatives, and every flavor of Ben and Jerry’s because you’re pretty sure you would have had a meltdown that would rival a toddler if you forced yourself to choose just one. And grandma keeps trying to convince you that the car seat she found by the dumpster is free and will be fine since her moms just held her in her lap when she was in a car and everyone turned out just fine.
Friends, families, and even strangers in the grocery often come with an agenda or preconceived notions on how to be the perfect parent, but a doula knows that there is no best way to parent. What a doula can provide you with is up to date information about the benefits and risks of almost everything infant and postpartum related. Together, you get the support to know that the decisions you have made as a parent are what is best for you, your family, and your individual situation. A doula also comes with an extensive list of fellow experts and can refer you to lactation consultants, pelvic floor therapists, postpartum mood disorder counselors, or whatever you need that is outside her scope of practice.
While a postpartum doula doesn’t guarantee that the newborn stage will be easy, it will most certainly make the steep learning curve of parenting a newborn a little easier to climb.