Way back in 2012, I wrote a series of posts that explained why I chose to give birth at home with all five of my kids. We thought it would be interesting to build on those posts by sharing additional, and often unknown, ways of doing the whole baby thing. Today we asked Kimberly Bepler of ABC Doula to help us understand the purpose and function of a postpartum doula.
Labor doulas are very popular for supporting pregnancy and birth, however postpartum doulas seem to still need quite a bit of explanation, as illustrated by the many people who ask what it is that actually I do.
Having now been a postpartum doula for 15 years, I have many definitions, and of course it depends on who asks me.
To a mom, I usually say that is like taking home that call button you get during your hospital stay (we’re right there to help you with whatever you need).
To a grandmother I often describe doulas as a modern “baby nurse,” only with lactation training and a heart to care for the whole family (not just the baby).
To a pregnant woman, I describe what it would be like to have your favorite aunt, lactation specialist, and Mary Poppins all wrapped into one person who comes to your house to care for you after the baby comes home.
A dedicated postpartum doula comes to serve you, care for you, educate you, and help you around the house while you are resting and adjusting to life with your baby.
She will run a sitz bath for you, hold your baby while you soak, change your sheets while you are in there, then settle you back in bed to nurse baby while they make you lunch.
She will hold babies while you nap if you are overwhelmed, listen to your struggles with your in-laws without judgment, and tell you what a wonderful mother you are and how great your baby is.
They are also great problem solvers and will help you soothe, bathe, and care for your baby confidently so you eventually do it on your own.
The truth is that a postpartum doula wears many hats and her role changes with each person she serves. Her main focus is to care for the mother. Many people stop by and check in on how the baby is doing–but few focus on the needs of the mama.
A doula’s main job is to ‘mother the mother’ so she can mother her child confidently.
Doulas increase the confidence of parents by teaching them how to bathe, swaddle, change diapers, and especially to soothe their infant’s crying or fussing. It is in this role that parents will often call the doula the “baby whisperer.”
These skills are meant to be modeled and taught to parents, leaving them feeling great about their own instincts and talents. The baby came to live with them after all, and the doula’s role is to equip the parents and bolster their own knowledge–since no matter how much they want us to move in at the time, they really are able to parent this baby without us!
The doula supports each member of the family, including caring for older siblings while they adjust to life with a new baby, helping equip dad or partner as they juggle their new roles caring for both wife and baby, and even spending a few minutes on the furry family members to make sure they feel loved and included.
No one can predict what type of support they will need (how do you know what a new baby will bring until you meet them and see who they are?) so doulas often keep a flexible schedule that keeps a family feel well supported without having the pressure of having someone in their home all the time.
Often doulas work morning or afternoon shifts (3-4 hours is common) or they will come in the evening during those fussy weeks to support everyone and make sure older kids get their dinner and bath routine while parents still get to eat and snuggle with siblings. Doulas even offer overnight care for tired families who need to recover or need some solutions with sleep struggles. A night of rest can make a world of difference, and doulas bring all their skills to that role as well.
While we do cook meals, do dishes and laundry, and generally tidy up, we are by no means housekeepers. We are caretakers, and all those tasks are done with love to ease the way for new families. It is in this spirit that we execute all of our skills, but only as it is needed, and usually just in the first few weeks or months.
In the Portland Metro area, and soon to be in the Seattle metro area as well, you can contact ABC Doula Service to support you whether you are planning for a new baby, twins or triplets, or already have welcomed your baby and realized you need more support.
Kimberly Bepler is the owner and founder of ABC Doula Service and also trains doulas for CAPPA both in Portland and all around the Northwest. She has worked extensively with families doing doula and lactation support for the past 15 years.
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