In ancient Greece, doulas were important servants that served the lady of the house. They assisted the lady during pregnancy and childbirth and through the postpartum period. The role doulas play today is very similar to the one they played in these ancient Greek households. Doulas are very knowledgeable companions during the pregnancy, birth and postpartum stages. There are birth doulas and postpartum doulas and each provides related but different assistance to the family.
While a birth doula assists the pregnant woman before and during birth, a postpartum doula is a companion for the days and weeks after the baby arrives. She provides useful information about how to take care of the newborn, with issues such as a bathing, feeding and soothing, offers emotional support for the entire family and even assists around the house with light household chores.
A postpartum doula’s responsibilities and services to the family vary from day to day, depending on what is needed. Since the most important goal of the postpartum doula is to ensure that the new mother is able to enjoy this time with her newborn and learn to care for the baby, the postpartum doula involves the whole family in assisting the mother. According to Doulas of North America, or DONA International, an organization that provides certification for doulas, a postpartum doula will help teach the rest of the family how to “mother the mother”. In other words, the doula’s responsibilities include teaching the other members of the family how to provide support for the new mother so that she is able to focus on the needs of the newborn without feeling overwhelmed.
A large part of what a postpartum doula offers mothers and family is education. The doula’s advice is based on evidence and research so that family members feel more confident about what they are doing. Postpartum doulas offer information and education on breastfeeding and other feeding methods, on bonding with baby, on soothing practices and on bathing, diapering and other general caring for the newborn. Postpartum doulas are knowledgeable about resources that a mother and family can use during this time such as support organizations, parenting organizations and medical professionals. Additionally, a doula works with the mother during the recovery period as she heals both emotionally and physically from the birthing experience.
Postpartum doulas are also involved with the rest of the family. They can teach the mother’s partner and the other children how to both nurture the mother and how to assist with caring for the newborn. They assist the family during this transitional time as the family adapts to the new addition. Some postpartum doulas can even help with the care of the older siblings, so that the new mother can devote the initial first days and weeks to caring for and bonding with the infant. As the doula teaches the rest of the family to care for the mother, the family becomes less dependent on the doula’s services.
Postpartum doulas can also assist the family with household chore that can sometimes become overwhelming for the new parents as they balance the needs of the newborn with maintaining a household and caring for other children. Some doulas offer light housekeeping, cleaning and cooking as part of their services. Others can also run some of the family’s errands to provide the new parents with more time with the infant.
Since caring for the mother is the central focus of the doula, the emotional wellbeing of the mother is also important. A postpartum doula cannot treat postpartum depression, but she can teach the mother about the signs of PPD and how to self-evaluate for these signs. She can also provide referrals to help the mother deal with any emotional issues that might arise during this time. At the same time, a postpartum doula’s role during this time is focused so that the new mother feels less pressure as she moves into this new stage in her life and in creating a space for the mother and the rest of the family that is safe and supportive. A doula does not judge, instead, she tries to ease the mother’s emotional and physical load during this time.
Postpartum doulas do not teach parents a specific parenting style. Instead, they are there to support the mother and family as they develop their own style of parenting that works for their family. As part of their role as a companion, doulas listen carefully to the mother’s or parents’ views and philosophies and offer advice based on evidence and their own experiences. However, the family decides how they want to parent their own children without any pressure from the doula.
The schedule of a postpartum doula can also vary greatly. Some doulas work a few hours a day for one to three days a week. Others can work with a family five days a week with a full-time schedule. Still others offer night time support to families to ease their adjustment during the difficult night time hours. Just like the hours and length of service each postpartum doula spends with a family vary so do the services they offer families.
The cost for the services of a postpartum doula is also determined by a variety of factors. It is affected by the location of the doula, the skill level and experience, the services provided and the hours the family needs the doula. Most doulas charge by the hour and many have a minimum number of hours of service that they require. According to americanpregnancy.org, the cost for services of a postpartum doula can range from $15 to $50 an hour. Some doulas do offer discounts if the service is paid for in advance or if a certain amount of hours of service are required.
There are a few organizations that provide certification for doulas. These include DONA as well as CAPPA, or the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association. Certification means that the doula has met the international standards and completed the training set by these organizations.