by Melina Auerbach
Post partum doula—what is that, you may ask? Or, as someone recently responded to my answer of “ What do you do for a living? A “do –what?”
Professional postpartum doulas (PPDs) are becoming increasingly recognized for their skill and ability to support new mothers and assist her smooth transition to motherhood. A post partum doula is a professionally trained, empathetic and non-judgmental woman, who can support and teach new mothers and their families about normal infant development, breastfeeding, practices that encourage healthy parent child bonding, soothing techniques and evidence based information that helps parents make their own decisions about parenting. A post partum doula’s main role is to “mother the mother” and can give new mothers (and their partners) the time and space to bond with their newborn. Having a post partum doula and can be a wonderful way to ease the transition to parenthood. Families who don’t have near-by family and/or who seek extra support, benefit enormously from having a post partum doula.
When I was pregnant with my first child my mother offered to come and stay with us for the first month. Luckily I get along with my mother and I decided I would indulge her. I assumed that because this was her first grandchild she wanted to get an early start in building up her relationship with “strawberry” (as my son was then called). It never occurred to me that my partner or I would need her help. Of course before a baby is born the focus for most pregnant women is on the birth. Very little thought is given to what comes after baby has arrived. And I was no exception. Little did I know at that time that my mother’s loving care would inspire me to change careers and provide a smooth and loving transition for families who are welcoming new babies into their lives.
In the early weeks after my son was born my time was consumed with trying to master breastfeeding, and my partner’s time was consumed with trying to support me. It didn’t take me long to realize that my ”indulgence” of allowing my mother to come stay for a month was in fact necessary to our survival. We were like 3 newborns that needed to be fed and cared for. My mother shopped for our food, cooked our meals (and froze extra ones for after she was gone), and did whatever needed doing that didn’t involve breastfeeding or sleeping. Her quiet and supportive presence allowed us to muddle through the first weeks and to start off our new life as a family in a loving and cocoon-like way.
This vital role that post partum doulas provide of “mothering the new mother” could benefit so many families. In B.C. many people are not yet aware of the role of post partum doulas, or have trouble affording to pay, though many doulas work on a sliding scale. In the Netherlands, the government heavily subsidizes post partum doula care and all women who have given birth have access to a minimum of 40 hours of post partum care. The benefits of early support for new families is clearly worth the investment and perhaps policy makers in British Columbia will one day recognize the value of helping families get off to a healthy and positive start.
Traditionally in many non-Western cultures women and their babies are nurtured and attended to by their families. Cultural practices in many parts of Asia Africa and Latin America include special foods and a confinement period for the mother – where she is encouraged to rest and the female family members offer social support and take on the household responsibilities. These customs allow new mothers a chance to recover from the birth and to gently transition into their new role as mothers. These practices are not an inherent part of Western culture. As a result new parents struggle by themselves to learn how to care for a new baby or integrate a new baby into the family. And mom has little time or space to recover gently from childbirth and gradually adjust to her new role as a parent. In addition many of today’s families live far apart, or do not have the kind of supportive relationships that allow a new mother to feel supported and unjudged. This non-judgmental, skilled role is where the post partum doula comes in. In BC there is a professional society of birth and post partum doulas (www.bcdoulas.org) There are also international certifying bodies such as DONA International (www.dona.org).
 Kim-Godwin, Yeoun Soo. Postpartum Beliefs and Practices Among Non-Western Cultures. MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, March/April 2003 Volume 28 Number 2 Pages 74 – 78.
What are the benefits of having a doula
A post partum doula can be helpful for any new (or experienced) mother. Research has shown that mothers who are well supported at the beginning of their babies’ lives have many advantages including:
- More successful at breastfeeding and breastfeed longer
- bond more quickly with their babies,
- less likely to experience post partum depression.
- decreased maternal exhaustion frustration and apprehension
- increased confidence in handing your newborn and recognizing newborn cues
- greater understanding of newborn emotional and physical needs
- ability to filter the overwhelming and differing advice from family, friends and others on newborn care
WHO NEEDS A POST PARTUM DOULA
Anyone who wants a smoother transition to parenting will benefit from having a post partum doula. Women who have had natural births, women who have had cesarean sections, women who are breastfeeding, women who are bottle feeding, women who are having their first child and women who are having their 4th child, women having one baby, women having twins—all will have different needs that can be met by a post partum doula. Some women need extra breastfeeding support, and others require emotional and physical supports. Those whose families live far away or who don’t have close relationships with their family can benefit from a post partum doula’s non-judging, listening skills and practical support. Anyone who wants advice on how to take care of a newborn, or who wants a trusted source to ask about what is normal and who can assist with filtering all of the unsolicited advice that everyone is so eager to dole out to new parents are other ways that doulas can support new families.
WHAT DOES A DOULA DO
A post partum doula offers families evidence-based information and support with:
- breastfeeding/bottle feeding
- emotional and physical recovery from childbirth,
- infant soothing techniques
- infant development and how to recognize baby cues for hunger, sleep, etc.
- mother and partner-baby bonding,
- coping skills for new parents.
- practical tips around bathing, diapering, sleeping, etc.
- Practical support with multiples
- Support for integrating new baby into family with additional siblings
- Meal preparation so that you can sleep or focus on your baby
- Holding baby so that you can eat, sleep, shower and take care of yourself
- “mothering the mother” so that the mother can nurture the baby
- community resource referrals
If you are interested in hiring a post partum doula, you can visit the BC Doula Services Association website (www.bcdoulas.org) for a listing of doulas in BC. For more information about what questions to ask a potential post partum doula go to http://www.dona.org/mothers/how_to_hire_a_doula.php.
Melina Auerbach is a post partum doula, breastfeeding educator and offers breastfeeding support to expecting and new moms. She teaches with Childbearing Society as well as privately. For more information you can visit her website at www.smoothbeginnings.com