Softening Postpartum with a Doula
By Laura Maxson, LM CPM
In an ideal world, every new mother would have her own mother or mother-in-law come stay for several weeks after the birth of a baby, helping with cooking and laundry while dispensing rare but sage advice on breastfeeding and childcare. However, in our real world many families are miles apart, if not in distance, then in temperament. Whether having a family member come to help is logistically impossible or just plain undesirable, the postpartum doula is ready to step in.
Postpartum doulas have skills, time and – most importantly – an air of calm confidence when it comes to being with mothers and babies. The doula doesn’t take over baby care; instead she models, teaches and encourages parenting skills while keeping the household together.
A new mother won’t often be able to pinpoint one miraculous moment with her postpartum doula that marked a turning point in her confidence as a parent. Rather, it is a series of small almost imperceptible moments that lightened the load, allowing this new parent to take a breath, get her perspective back and continue learning how to be in tune with her baby.
Postpartum doulas are available to new families for a few hours, a few days or for weeks at a time. Experienced with breastfeeding support, the doula can offer encouragement through helpful tips and techniques that have been successful for many other families, while keeping an eye out for situations that seem beyond the normal new baby transitions. The postpartum doula is not a clinician, but will definitely point out situations to the parents that might seem like a possible problem brewing, so they can be attended to earlier rather than later.
What every parent knows, but most parents-to-be don’t quite understand, is the intensity of the postpartum period. A postpartum doula can mean that she gets a shower today instead of tomorrow. And, while she is in the shower, her postpartum doula quickly changes her sheets. Once back in bed with her newborn nursing quietly, the bathroom gets a quick wipe down, the garbage gets emptied and the wilting plants on the counter are given a drink.
Making sure the new mother has eaten healthfully during the day and that there is a plan for dinner is often part of doula duties. Getting siblings ready for school or dance class; or just reading a story while mom dozes with the new baby can take the pressure of the real world off everyone for a few minutes. Postpartum doulas can look at the calendar and remind tired parents to make their house payment or that there is a pediatrician visit tomorrow.
Folding clothes and making a shopping list while quickly demonstrating an effective burping technique are staples of postpartum doula care, but the real gift is the sense of calm that comes in with the postpartum doula and lingers long after she leaves for the day.
The first few weeks with a newborn are intense – there is no doubt about that, but the intensity should be a mix. There are moments of bliss and bonding for the whole family that are unmatched and can be missed if they are overshadowed by anxiety, exhaustion and stress.
Friends and family members can be great doulas and with their commitment and a little thoughtful planning, many families are able to pull together their own informal system of support, but this is not for everyone. So, how can parents fit one more expense into the price of pregnancy and birth?
Look into postpartum doula care as soon as possible in the pregnancy. Attend Meet the Doulas or check out Birth Network of Santa Cruz County’s resource listings for local postpartum doulas. Get an idea of prices and packages, and then budget for it. Put $20 – $50 a month into an envelope during the pregnancy. This will give you a start for hiring postpartum care. Add postpartum doula fund information to your shower gift registry so people can contribute. Specifically requesting funds toward a postpartum doula let people know that your priority is people over things. Babies grow so fast – there are hundreds of beautiful baby outfits available at the used baby stores for pennies on the dollar. But the value of a postpartum doula, especially for a first baby, can’t be matched.
Listing of Postpartum Doulas – www.birthnet.org