This blog was previously posted February 15, 2019
I started training as a doula about 2 years ago. I was so excited to help families through labor and delivery and help them advocate for themselves through those tough hours. I just knew labor and delivery was where I wanted to be and believed that’s where I could help most as a doula. That all is very much still where I want to be but I have also found a calling of helping as a postpartum doula. It’s only recently that doulas are becoming more popular. We’ve all said “I’m a doula” only to be met with a blank stare and then explain a doula is someone who assists, comforts, and advocates for families during labor and delivery. Then you add that you’re a postpartum doula and people automatically assume it’s only for people with postpartum depression. It’s not. Just as there are social movements to make labor and delivery doulas more accessible for everyone; I believe postpartum doulas are also an essential resource for families. Postpartum doulas provide information, assistance, comfort, and advocacy during the days and months after labor.
Somewhat through circumstance I have found myself in the postpartum doula world more often than the labor and delivery side of the birth community. I have also found there is a huge disparity in how much someone prepares for labor and delivery versus how much they prepare for the postpartum period. Many families I talk to and work with have read countless books, gone to childbirth classes and get daily or weekly updates from websites on what size fruit or vegetable the baby is this week, as well as what the baby is doing in the uterus now! They know positions they want to labor in and some comfort techniques they want to try. All of this is great and there certainly needs to be more access to evidence based information for parents to be making informed decisions and knowing what is within the “norm” for a laboring person. But then there is this huge void of familiarity of what exactly life is going to look like once baby is born. What does sleep look like? What does a feeding schedule look like (hint: There’s not really a schedule for a while)? How do parents get to eat, sleep, and bathe? What does recovery look like for the pregnant person? What is the “norm” for this postpartum period? What decisions will you be faced with?
When I talk with fellow doulas, childbirth educators, and providers most agree that postpartum is generally overlooked ahead of time. Parents are so focused on the birth that it can be very overwhelming to think too far past that. But here’s the trouble with not encouraging some planning of the postpartum time ahead. Once you have your baby you will be extremely sleep deprived, you’ll be going possibly days between showers, you’ll be experiencing physical symptoms of recovery. You may not have the time or resources to look up information or read books or attend a class to make informed decisions.
So what is the solution to this problem? I believe having a very detailed postpartum plan is key. Being able to write down and think out all the different possibilities for what the postpartum period is going to look like and how you will handle decision making during that time. Then, when you’re at your wits end and sleep deprived and can’t possibly make it to the kitchen to make ramen noodles you can look and see that your neighbor agreed to bring some meals over. When your older child gets sick you can see that an aunt has agreed watch them. You can call a lactation consultant when your pump breaks and you can’t remember the best way to hand express. This gives you a plan for physical recovery whether you have a vaginal or cesarean delivery and allows you to stock up on some of those very helpful supplies ahead of time so you’re not sending a partner or friend out to the 24 hour pharmacy to pick up a numbing spray at 2 am. Unlike a labor and delivery plan which frequently changes from the original goals; a postpartum plan tends to stay more consistent and you are able to plan for multiple outcomes ahead of time. Meal prep and a good list of friends and family who agree ahead of time to help if called upon are great. Also make a list of things around the house that others can do for you. Can someone come feed the pets? Can someone come do laundry or wash dishes? Someone else can come sweep and vacuum. Have a neighbor take your trash out to the curb when they take theirs out. Essentially during the first few months when someone comes to visit put them to work on at least one small task that will make your day a little easier. They’ll feel better and so will you!
You of course can also consider hiring a postpartum doula and assuring you’ll get support and evidence based information without the judgement that may come from all the unsolicited new parent advice you’ll be sure to get. There are many ways to parent with a newborn and it takes time and work to find out what works best for baby and parent. Making sure you have support is essential. Most other cultures around the world surround the new family with support and care. Let’s consider fostering that here in our own communities and create more happy healthy families. Doulas are not typically covered by insurance so also consider adding a postpartum doula onto your baby registry for someone to pay for X amount of hours ahead of time. Many doulas are open to sliding scale, payment plans, and bartering as well. We make a living doing this and we chose this work to be there for families in need. It is not a luxury but a need to have support during your postpartum period.
Being a new parent is magical, absolutely. But it is also messy, and challenging, and hard work. Setting realistic expectations and goals ahead of time can really set a family up for a positive, memorable, postpartum period. Those first days, weeks, and months are some of the most challenging but they are certainly some of the most cherished. You will bond with your baby and learn who they are a little more each day. It is remarkable to be a part of that journey and I am so grateful for the families who let me support them postpartum. I highly suggest during pregnancy to make a postpartum plan, attend some classes for breastfeeding and/or infant care classes, and also hiring a postpartum doula to give you support.