There once was a village. Then there was just you and your partner. But today, more and more new moms are discovering a somewhere-in-between solution that involves hiring a care specialist for the baby (and new mom) to help out in the days and weeks following birth. Find out if you should consider hiring a postpartum doula.
"A postpartum doula is a professional support person who's trained to help not only the baby, but the family as well, in the days or months after birth," says Aliza Bancoff, a birth and postpartum doula in Philadelphia and founder of International Doula Institute, an online training and certification program. Doulas provide education about infant care, like how to burp and bathe your baby. They look after your newborn so you can rest and recharge, knowing your little one is in good hands. "We also offer support in the practical side of things: Laundry, dishes, housework, cooking, errands," says Bancoff. "Essentially, we mother the new mother, nurturing her so she can nurture her precious new baby." (A baby nurse, on the other hand, solely focuses on the baby's needs.)
"Postpartum doulas are the modern version of the community village of women who would surround and support pregnant and laboring women during and after the birth," says Katie Page, a certified nurse midwife in Forest, Virginia. "If you don't have that community, a doula can fill in." But everyone can benefit, she says, adding, "I actively encourage postpartum doulas to all of my clients who may have less support at home."
Less help at home was certainly Ellie Hirsch's worry. "My husband and I were on our own since we didn't live near any family. And I knew he would be back to work and traveling soon after our son was born," says Hirsch, a mom in Tampa, Florida. "We needed all the support and help we could get."
Postpartum doula care may even help keep the baby blues at bay. "Two major contributors to postpartum depression are fatigue and lack of support," says Page. "Having a reliable doula or village to rally around you while you bond with your baby can be critical to maternal-infant attachment, mental health, and future parenting." Plus, a 2009 study in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing found that postpartum doulas effectively promote maternal responsiveness and competence in new moms.
"Don't hesitate to ask your birthing coach, ob-gyn, or midwife for a referral," says Page. "I've recommended postpartum doulas to many of my clients."
Beyond seeking the advice of the birth pros you're already in touch with, you can use the "find a doula" tool on the Doulas of North America International's website (dona.org) or on doulamatch.net. Unlike medical pros, doulas are unlicensed and unregulated, so it's a good idea to ask a prospective doula which organization certified her, and what the process for the certification program entailed, notes Bancoff. And, of course, call references and visit the doula's certifying organization's website. (DONA is considered a well-established and well-respected certification organization.)
"Start contacting postpartum doula services as early as possible -- definitely by the beginning of the third trimester," says Bancoff. "But don't fret if you're starting late or even if you've already had your baby. You can still find services that may be able to fit you in."
Every family is different -- and has different needs -- so there's no set length of time a postpartum doula may help. As for cost, a postpartum doula can run between $20 and $45 per hour, depending on where you live. "Most doula practices will create a customized plan to meet the family's unique needs," says Bancoff.
Hirsch's doula came for three to four hours a day, almost every day, for the first week after her child's birth, but then visited every other day for a few hours. "By week three, it was just a few hours," she says. But those hours were priceless.
"I really didn't know what to expect when I hired a postpartum doula, but she was everything I could have desired and more," says Hirsch. "Having a little baby who relies on you for everything -- when it used to be all about just taking care of yourself -- is definitely overwhelming. But having someone there whom I trusted, who was calming and someone I looked to as a mentor, was a really wonderful gift."
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