The use of a doula—typically known as a birth companion or coach—is becoming increasingly common throughout the United States. As more moms-to-be are turning to these experts for support, guidance and assistance, the role of a doula is growing, too. No longer are women only utilizing doulas for labor support, but postpartum doulas are now quite popular as well.
But what exactly is a postpartum doula? BRIDES spoke with postpartum doula Tina Bein, PCD(DONA) for a better understanding of their roles and how they can impact the first few weeks of motherhood.
What Is a Postpartum Doula?
As you may have guessed, a postpartum doula is essentially a doula whose assistance extends to the post-labor time period. “A postpartum doula is someone who helps mom recover from birth, gives mom time to bond with baby by doing light housework, assisting with basic newborn care, and helping balance life with the newest addition to their family,” says Bein.
As anyone who has brought a newborn home can attest, the bottles, dishes, and laundry pile up in the blink of an (extremely sleepy) eye—and can interfere with your special time with your new little love. Because of this, postpartum doulas can play an essential role in helping new moms (and dads!) adjust at home as seamlessly as possible.
Birth Doula v. Postpartum Doulas
It’s important to clarify the differences between the two roles and professions. Bein clarifies, “When people hear the term doula, most of the time they automatically associate that with a birth doula.” But there’s a big difference. While the birth doula is typically present at the birth to assist with the labor and delivery, postpartum doulas are not.
Though a birth doula will typically also check in the early stages of postpartum, Bein says, “The postpartum doula’s entire job is to assist with the postpartum period, after the baby has arrived, and when life is at its most chaotic.”
Some women opt to have a birth doula only, a postpartum doula only, or a combination of both. “A postpartum doula’s job is to help the family find a new rhythm that includes this newest member," says Bein. "We usually help our families for around 4 to 12 weeks, and in some special circumstances maybe as much as a year.”
While she personally has not had any clients for longer than 12 weeks, Bein does continue to check in with her families after their time together has ended just to see how things are going. "I mainly make sure mom is okay, because postpartum mood disorders don't have an expiration date,” she says.
Hiring a Postpartum Doula
Whether it’s your first baby or your fifth, Bein says, “Postpartum doulas are amazing for any size family. They are great for your first baby all the way through baby number 20.” However, she says she’s never had a client with a family bigger than six kids ("But wouldn't that be awesome!”).
Postpartum doulas are also not only there to support new biological parents, but also to help any family who has recently become just that—a new family. In the case of adoption, Bein says there is a lot of emotional balancing that can come along with it. “Bonding is key, and postpartum doulas can help with that,” she says.
Other Ways They Can Help
Postpartum doulas can also help provide breastfeeding support to nursing moms. Typically they do this by encouraging moms and helping with adjusting positions and any other issues they pick up on. "We will usually will recommend a Lactation Consultant or IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) if we think moms are going to need more specialized support,” Bein says.
In addition to light housework (dishes, mom and baby laundry, taking the trash out, and vacuuming) and newborn care (diapering, bathing assistance, bottle feeding suggestions), Bein says she also loves to make a meal or two for her clients. Perhaps most importantly, Bein says of postpartum doulas, “We also listen to mom. We let her tell her story, we make a bond with families that they feel that we are their safe space.” In the first few days and weeks, new moms can feel exhausted and lonely as they maintain long overnight hours, operate on little sleep and manage fluctuating hormones.
“I like to create a judgement free and safe place for parents—they can ask any question and express how they are feeling. So there are days where I just sit and listen to mom, or dad,” she says.
Bein adds that because of a postpartum doula’s assistance, parents can nap and take showers, too—a hot commodity when you have a newborn! “That is the beauty of a postpartum doula,” she says. “We allow parents that much needed moment to take a breath.”
While it may vary from doula to doula, Bein was trained and certified through DONA International, a widely recognized organization among doulas. Within her training, she received a postpartum care class as well as a breastfeeding class, and then had to complete a series a of required reading and offer her services to four clients who then rated the level of care that she provided. There are many other training providers a doula can seek out as well.
See more: 5 Reproductive Health Tips from a Doula
Hiring a Postpartum Doula
Essentially, Bein says, “Moms KNOW,” which is why she always encourages a prospective client to meet her in person. She says, “Every expecting mother has this sense with personalities. I have been told by a mom I wasn't her vibe before, and that is okay to tell us. We understand that finding a doula is like speed dating, you have to meet The ONE!”
It's also important to ask as many questions as you can think of. She encourages moms-to-be to ask ALL the questions! These are the most important questions to ask a potential postpartum doula:
- What kind of training/certification or experience have they had?
- Are they comfortable with helping with breastfeeding? Some women are good with words, but not comfortable hands on.
- Why are they in postpartum work? You will see their 'why' and know this is the person for you.
- What is their schedule of availability? Is their availability not what you expect? What is their availability with phone calls or text?
- What specific services do they provide? What exactly do they offer?
Pricing will vary depending on area, expertise, years of practice, and specialty. Bein says that in her area of Virginia, they typically cost anywhere from $25 to $35 per hour. If a family is planning on hiring one, it’s a great idea to consider if the doula offers a prepay option, or even gift certificates—a fantastic shower gift.
While many moms take time to create a birth plan, they don’t always think of a postpartum plan—yet it’s just as important, if not more so. Bein says, “The ‘after’ is when most mothers (and dads!) have the greatest need for support.”