Meema Spadola, postpartum doula, certified lactation counselor and Brooklyn mom, reminds us that every new mom struggles with something and it is ok to ask for help.
When I tell people that I’m a postpartum doula I typically get a pretty baffled reaction. Even if people have heard of doulas, they often confuse the word “postpartum” with “postpartum depression.” But if they’re up for listening, I’m always ready to preach the gospel of postpartum doula support. I truly believe that whether you’re pregnant or adopting; having your first child, your second or more; expecting a singleton or multiples; partnered or single; support from a postpartum doula can help make the arrival of your new baby (or babies) easier and more enjoyable. Here, then, are the five things that I wish that people knew about how we can help growing families:
Practical Support – Postpartum doulas are there to make life easier, so that parents can focus on connecting with their babies (and each another) and resting. On the most basic level, we make sure that the mother feels nurtured and cared for, as well as making sure she is eating well and getting enough sleep (or as close to enough sleep as humanly possible!). If a mother had a cesarean delivery or any other birth complications, it can make the transition to home challenging, so having the extra support of a postpartum doula can make recovery quicker and easier. The day to day details vary, but we can help with feeding the baby (breast and/or bottle); make sure mothers are hydrated and well fed; provide info about physical recovery measures for mothers; educate about infant soothing techniques, newborn care (like bathing, diapering, etc.), “babywearing” (carrying babies in a sling or carrier), normal newborn behavior, appearance and sleep patterns; provide referrals and resource info; care for your baby while you take a much-needed nap; as well as do errands, light housekeeping, meal prep for the whole family, set up nursery and gear, and care for older siblings.
Breastfeeding – Not all of my clients plan on breastfeeding, but for those who do, having a postpartum doula can help you meet your breastfeeding goals. For mothers who give birth in a traditional hospital setting, the common complaint I hear is that they get lots of conflicting or sometimes downright incorrect information about breastfeeding. And once you’re home, your mother or mother-in-law might mean well, but either they didn’t breastfeed or they nursed 30+ years ago and may not have up to date, evidence-based information. Postpartum doulas are trained to help with the basics of breastfeeding— from getting the latch (how baby nurses at the breast) and positioning comfortable, to pumping, storing milk and bottle-feeding. I’m also a Certified Lactation Counselor, but will sometimes refer out to a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in a particularly tricky case. Having quality help early on can make the process of breastfeeding a whole lot easier and less stress inducing!
Whole Family Support – Unlike a baby nurse who focuses solely on the baby, a postpartum doula is there for the whole family. With short parental leave policies, partners can sometimes feel overwhelmed or under pressure to pick up all the slack, at a time when they need support and guidance too. They often appreciate getting information before they head back to work that can help them feel like full partners in parenting. And postpartum doulas aren’t only for first-time parents! Older siblings can benefit tremendously from having a postpartum doula in the house— by getting a little extra attention for themselves, having the doula care for the new baby so parents can have some uninterrupted time for their older child, and depending on how old the sibling is, some older brothers and sisters like learning how to change a diaper or help soothe “their” new baby. Having support from a postpartum doula can ease the transition as a family grows, expands and everyone’s roles shift a bit.
Postpartum Mood Disorders Prevention – I was inspired to become a postpartum doula after I saw a dear friend experience postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of her son. I realized that there’s a lot of attention and excitement around pregnant women and newborns, but not much sustained and practical support in those early weeks and months after a baby is born. Postpartum Mood Disorders (PMDs), including depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, are the most common medical complications related to childbirth. (They affect 1 in 8 mothers.) (Read more about postpartum mood disorders here.) Having adequate support— both emotional and practical— can make a huge difference for mothers in the first weeks and months after a baby is born. (And it’s not just birth mothers who can be affected by PMDs! Mothers who haven’t given birth and fathers are also vulnerable and can benefit from a postpartum doula’s support.) Postpartum doulas are trained to help our clients screen themselves for PMDs and can make referrals to appropriate clinicians or other resources if needed.
Build Confidence – As a postpartum doula I’m not there to tell clients how to parent— I provide evidence-based information about their baby (or babies), help them to read the baby’s cues, and give them a kind of “toolbox” for caring for their baby. There’s so much judgment aimed at new parents– about feeding, sleeping, etc. And there’s so much conflicting information floating around— in books, on websites, via family and friends. Having a postpartum doula creates a safe, supportive space to figure it out while getting some TLC for themselves. One thing that’s important to understand is that, unlike a baby nurse, postpartum doulas don’t take over care of the baby, which can make parents feel a bit helpless and less confident. (The exception, of course, is for those times when an exhausted parent needs a nap!) I always say that my goal with each client is to work myself out of a job. It’s gratifying to see parents who start out feeling nervous and unsure of themselves become more confident and clear about caring for their baby.
The bottom line is that postpartum doulas are great for all kinds of families— whether or not you gave birth or adopted, are breastfeeding, have a partner or not. I’ve worked with families with two fathers— so you don’t have to be a mother to benefit from a postpartum doula’s support! I think most pregnant women are familiar with the idea of a “birth plan,” but few people expecting a new baby have made a plan for those first couple months after the baby is born (whether giving birth or adopting). I encourage people to think about who’s on your team. Who are the helpers (not just visitors!) in your life? Will having your mother or mother-in-law come to stay be truly positive or will it make you crazy? Can you come up with a “we’d love if you could help with ____________” list for friends and visitors? What do you need so that you can just focus on caring for your baby and yourself? These are the kinds of questions that are important to think through and that a postpartum doula can help with. Reach out to a few postpartum doulas via DoulaMatch.net or ask for referrals from friends or your neighborhood listserv. Then take the time to meet in person to see if you click and once you find someone you like, book some time in advance! It’s a wonderful investment in yourself, your baby and your family!
Meema Spadola is a DONA (Doulas of North America) trained and certified postpartum doula (since 2006), a Certified Lactation Counselor (since 2010) and is also trained in infant, child and adult CPR. She has a particular interest in breastfeeding support, “baby wearing,” and supporting women who are struggling with postpartum mood disorders, including PPD. Meema enjoys working with a diverse range of families, including single, adoptive, and LGBT parents. She is a former documentary filmmaker whose films about body image and family issues have been broadcast on PBS, HBO and beyond. She lives in Kensington/Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn with her husband and 8 year old son.