By Wendy Middleton, ICPE, CD (DONA)
The postpartum period is a very special time for families. In traditional cultures around the world, postpartum is respected as an important transition from pregnancy to motherhood. These cultures value a time-honored tradition: the "nesting period." This is a time for mothers to rest and recover from birth, get to know their babies, and learn how to care for them in a supportive, nurturing environment. The postpartum mother is not expected to go out, cook or clean, but rather to conserve her energy for the demands of caring for a new baby. To make this possible, the mom is supported by one or more experienced mothers. These women offer encouragement, prepare meals, perform housework and gently teach the mother how to care for her postpartum body and the new baby. The most common "nesting period" is 40 days long.
Let's contrast this with practices in our culture today. Our society does not honor the postpartum transition, nor does it acknowledge the challenges new mothers face. As a result, most moms return from the hospital with little or no support system in place. They are largely isolated without anyone to answer their questions or reassure them of the normal process of postpartum, until they go to their medical appointments weeks later. New moms are expected to immediately resume cooking, shopping, errands, laundry, car pools, cleaning, caring for other children and a multitude of other household tasks. This leaves very little time or energy to focus on the postpartum tasks of physical recovery, emotional adaptation to great change, and learning about the newest little person in their lives. The minimal amount of time off that fathers are given from work, and dad's own stress and sleep deprivation after the birth, can compound the problem. One study showed that baby care and basic household tasks alone added up to 16-18 hours of work a day. It is no wonder that postpartum moms can find themselves exhausted, overwhelmed, even depressed, trying to mange all this with little or no assistance.
Coming to the rescue are Postpartum Doulas, trained and knowledgeable professionals who assist families during this critical period. They offer emotional and informational support to the family, as well as practical help. Their expertise in mother and baby care enables them to assist with postpartum comfort measures, breastfeeding support, non-judgmental guidance in infant care techniques, information on normal postpartum restoration and infant development, and assisting the whole family emotionally through this transition.
The practical help that is included with a postpartum doula's services vary. Most doulas make simple meals for the family, hold and diaper the baby, answer the phone and door, and take care of any siblings and the baby while parents nap, shower or take a much needed break. Some doulas do laundry and light cleaning in the kitchen. Others may offer to do grocery shopping or other errands, as needed. Postpartum doulas do not do major house cleaning, however. They also do not perform any clinical tasks or diagnose medical conditions, although they will refer you to a medical professional if they notice something of concern.
Although postpartum doulas offer essential support, they can be difficult to find. Expectant parents can ask other parents, childbirth educators, birth doulas (labor assistants) or the hospitals where they deliver for recommendations. They may contact national organizations such as Doulas of North America. Parents in the Dayton area who would like a doula referral list (or women interested in training to become postpartum doulas) may contact Birthsource for a list of doulas on the Dayton Doula Registry (937) 312-0544.
The support that a postpartum doula gives can have a lasting impact on the family. The few studies available on postpartum assistance confirm what clients have been telling their doulas for years. Postpartum support often results in increased confidence for parents, greater satisfaction in the breastfeeding experience, increased duration of breastfeeding and fewer incidences of postpartum depression. Postpartum doulas put priority on "mothering the mother." They ensure that moms get enough nourishment, fluids and rest, so that the moms feel better and have the energy to care for their little ones. Having a companion to whom they may confide and ask general questions can help reduce mom's feelings of anxiety, stress and isolation. In some cases, deviations from normal postpartum recovery, emotional adjustment, newborn appearance or behavior and breastfeeding may be noticed and treated sooner, leading to healthier moms and babies.
Finally, attending to the needs of the other family members and making sure they have enough attention, reassurance, nourishment and an orderly household all help ensure that the postpartum transition goes smoothly for the entire family. Postpartum doulas provide vital support to help families get the best possible start with their new baby.
Wendy Middleton is the mother of two beautiful girls and is a Certified Doula and Certified Postnatal Educator. She has been helping families for over a decade as a licensed child care provider, nanny, birth and postpartum doula, and parenting educator.