What Exactly Is a Postpartum Doula?

by Kimberly Bepler ICPE, IAT (ICEA), CPD/CPDT(CAPPA), IBCLC

Labor doulas are very popular in Portland. Postpartum doulas, however, still seem to require quite a bit of explanation (as illustrated by the many blank stares I get when I tell people what I do). Having been a postpartum doula for 11 years now I often describe it is as having your favorite aunt, a lactation consultant and a personal chef all wrapped into one person who comes to your house to care for you after the baby comes home.

The truth is that a postpartum doula wears many hats and her role changes depending on the unique situation of each family she helps. A postpartum doula’s primary role however, is always to ‘mother the mother’ so that she can mother her child confidently. In most situations there are many medical professionals and others who are focusing on how the baby is doing but not so many focusing on the needs of the mama. This involves providing a wide array of physical, emotional and practical support depending on the needs of the mother.

In a way postpartum doulas are a kind of mothering expert:  they are trained to support new mothers as they recover from birth and navigate their way through the many normal adjustments that accompany those first few weeks/ months of motherhood (including postpartum mood disorders which affect 10-30% of new mothers).

A large part of a postpartum doula’s role is that of educator, teaching parents how to be confident in their baby caretaking skills including showing them how to bathe, swaddle, change diapers and especially to soothe their infant. These skills are meant to be modeled and taught to parents, leaving them feeling great about their own instincts and talents. It is easy for parents to feel a little overwhelmed by how much they don’t know yet and therefore see their doula as some amazingly gifted ‘baby whisperer.’ No matter how wonderful parents may think their doula is (and we are!) the baby came to live with them not with their doula, and the doula’s role is to equip them with all her baby skills to bolster their own knowledge.

Another role postpartum doulas often fill is supporting the other members 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.

A final role of postpartum doulas, and one which is in keeping with the Greek word doulos from which our profession draws its name, is that of household servant. Cooking meals, doing dishes and laundry and generally tidying up a house where tired parents live are all part of the postpartum doula’s day at some point. But it is important to point out that we are by no means “housekeepers” but rather caretakers and all these tasks are done with love to ease the way for new families. It is in this spirit that we execute all of our skills fluidly and as needed. As much as we adore each family we help, our job is really to work ourselves out of job. As hard as this can be sometimes, it is nice to know that once a family is cared for so well that they no longer need us, there is another just around the corner starting a similar journey. . . so off to a new family we go.

Kimberly also teaches The ABC’s of Natural Baby Care at the spa, the next one is being held December 3rd.  Visit her website www.abcdoula.com for more about what Kimberly is up to.

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