Join us as we take a closer look at the big question: "What is a postpartum doula?"
I am a postpartum doula. I provide physical and emotional support to families with newborns during the postpartum period.
My guess is that most of you have already tuned out. I don't blame you.
I'll be honest. I'm not a huge fan of that definition. It's cold, clinical-sounding, and vague. And I think the jargon is a big turn-off to people who might otherwise be interested in or be in need of a postpartum doula's services.
So, let's break it down and take a closer look.
Postpartum means "after the birth" (not to be confused with "the afterbirth" or placenta!). Clinically speaking, the postpartum period is the time after birth during which a pregnant body returns to its non-pregnant state. This involves all sorts of physiological and hormonal processes, including the shrinking of the uterus, repositioning of internal organs, and leveling-off of pregnancy related hormones. Clinically, these occur over a 6 week period post-birth.
Culturally and socially, the postpartum period has a different time frame. The definition is fluid, but can be considered to be roughly the first year post-birth. We know that the biological function of a body returning to a non-pregnant state is but one of a number of factors involved. New parents aren't made overnight. The transition into parenthood, especially for the first time, is often a long, ever-evolving process.
The word "doula" comes from the Greek word meaning "servant" (technically from ancient Greek: "female slave"). There are doulas serving in a variety of specialties: postpartum doulas, birth doulas, fertility doulas and adoption doulas. There are even non-baby related doulas too - cancer doulas, geriatric doulas, even end-of-life/death doulas. The common theme? These doulas are centered around major transitional events, where life before the event and life after are not the same. A doula is trained in many aspects of that event, and occupies the space around it, walking with the family from one side to the other.
A postpartum doula is someone who knows a lot about normal recovery from birth, newborn care, and new parent care, and helps hold the world at bay while new parents and their newborns acclimate to their new lives. Supporting all this "new-ness" requires a gentle approach, kind hands, a listening ear, and a vast depth of knowledge.
Each family is different, so a postpartum doula will serve different functions depending on the needs of the family. Some new parents have very little hands-on experience with babies, and will need education in newborn care (bathing, diapering, soothing, feeding, etc.). Some parents will need a safe space to process the emotional changes that occur in becoming a parent. Some parents will need to be sheltered from the rest of the world while they rest, recover and bond with their babies. And some parents need nurturing, validation and support as they build confidence in their own parenting abilities. A postpartum doula holds the new parents' hands, literally and figuratively, as they establish themselves in the world of parenthood.
And finally, here is what a postpartum doula is not. They are not baby nurses or newborn care specialists (though some may hold dual certifications as such). A postpartum doula's care is strictly non-medical, and it is more mother- (or parent-) centered than baby-centered. A postpartum doula is not a nanny. Their service is to empower parents, not take over care of the baby.
Being a new parent is hard. Surround yourself with people who help you feel secure in your choices, who walk with you as you find your path, and who support you without judgment or agenda.