This is my newborn baby the day after she was born. I remember driving home from the birth center where she had been born just a few hours earlier, she was in her car seat that the midwife had installed for us because we had not yet done that yet. Four hours after our little girl arrived into this world with a room full of women there to support my husband and I we were home tucked into bed alone with our new child. There was no sleep that night. I sat and watched her breath, tried to nurse when she let out any sort of a noise, and cried when she did. Both my husband and I were terrified, joyful that things were OK, that we had a healthy baby girl, but we were scared. What now? How does she know how to breath? How does she know how to nurse? I don't know how to nurse. What is the red spot on her face? Does she have a fever? She feels warm. Do all babies make that noise and what do I do with that sump on her belly left over from where she was once connected to me?
These are all normal feelings for new parents. Our child made it through the night and so did we, and so do many other parents. I wish we had not been alone, I wish I had a post-birth doula go home with me after my birth and get us through that first night. Letting us know that our child was fine, walking along-side me as I nursed my newborn, and allowing us to be calm and restful.
This is the job of a post-birth doula. This is my job. I have been a birth and post-birth doula for about five years now. My practice has had one major change, and it was after experiencing the birth of my daughter. I now put a lot more focus on post-birth care. So what does a postpartum doula do for a new family?
A postpartum doula is a woman who walks along side the family as they welcome in their newborn child, and adjust to this new human, meet its needs and figure out how to care for this tiny new creature. Post-birth doulas prioritize caring for the needs of the mother so that she can care for her new baby. The doula helps the mother recover from birth (this is a particularly helpful service to mothers who had traumatic births such as cesarean sections) by providing a restful atmosphere, making teas, and drawing baths. I do what ever the mother needs done, many times this looks different for each mother. I change bed sheets, wash dishes, soothe crying toddlers who are adjusting, rock newborns so that mommy can take a long hot bath, cook meals, arrange food trees. I assist with breastfeeding, encourage new techniques, help mom learn how to use a breast pump. I have spent the night with mothers so that she can get rest in between feedings and know that if her baby wakes its being soothed, rocked, and cared for and she can rest until she is needed again. I recently attended a Jewish Bris and according to the mother, brought calm to her during the ceremony. I helped settle the baby, the mother and helped the grandmothers put the house back together after the event. I help mothers learn to swaddle, and use baby slings. I also find resources for the mother if she or her baby have a specific need. Post-birth doulas tailor each job to the individual needs of the mother. This is not a job that has a specific job title, I change it each time a mother hires me, because her needs are not the same as the other mothers' I have cared for. Each woman deserves to be cared for after giving birth in her own home, in a way that makes her feel safe, respected and encouraged. I do not train the mother for specific parenting philosophies, I help her learn to listen to her own instincts and do what is best for her baby, her body and her family.
A baby nurse focuses solely on the baby. They do not care for the mother's needs, they do not have education on breastfeeding support. They are trained in baby care only, and while they are wonderful people who love babies, they are not trained in looking at the family as a whole, and meeting the needs of the family as a whole. I recently cared for a mother who was originally looking for a baby nurse, after being in her home caring for her and her child for 3 nights, she said to me, " Now I know why you prioritize caring for me. I feel so good having you here to care for me, the teas you bring and the baths you prepare for me make me feel so much better. I feel better caring for by baby because you encourage me and that gives me confidence."