What is a postpartum doula? (and do you need one?)

Here’s a crazy thought. What if you could actually relax and *gasp* enjoy your postpartum period? Well boy oh boy, do we have a handy hack for you!

Postpartum doula services are a serious gamechanger. They can provide much-needed support for your family during that stressful period after you’ve been unceremoniously dumped out of the hospital system to fend for yourselves. (Because let’s be real: lots of mums experience a distressing gap in postnatal care.)

In this article we’ll look at how a postpartum doula can help you, and get firsthand insight from a mama who’s used one herself.

What is a postpartum doula?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, “A postpartum doula provides evidenced-based information on things such as infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother-baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care.” 

But beyond just ‘providing information’ (meh), they’ll actually roll their sleeves up and help you out practically (epic).

While there’s no specific certification someone needs to become a ‘postpartum doula’, many complete specific doula training or come from a background in nursing, midwifery, nutrition, lactation consulting, or some other related field

What does a postpartum doula do?

Your laundry? Yes. Your tax return? No.

Leading international doula organisation DONA International outlines the key areas that postpartum doula services cover, as follows:

Emotional support

With hormones doing a number on you following pregnancy and birth, it can be useful to have someone around that has their wits about them. 

A postpartum doula can help you debrief from your birth experience, so you can work through or identify any birth trauma. They’ll also watch for signs of postnatal depression, and support you and your family through this wild transition. Phewf.

Evidence-based information and support

Your doula may not have formal training per se, but they’ll have lots of experience and knowledge in postpartum recovery and newborn care. So they’ll have done plenty of research and reading, and they’ll have real-life case studies to inform their work. 

This will help you out because, to be frank, babies do a lot of weird sh*t (we mean that literally and metaphorically). A doula will be able to tell you what’s normal and what’s not.

Practical support

Someone to do the dishes, f*ck yes! 

Postpartum doula services can involve light housework (very useful, when you’ve got a baby attached to your boob for 12 hours a day), running errands for you, and hands-on newborn care such as showing you how to give your baby a bath, diaper changing tricks, and even support with feeding issues.

Partner and sibling support

Adjusting to life with a newborn is tough for everyone, including your partner, any siblings, and even your fur-babies. (Poor, neglected Felix.)

Your postpartum doula can help look after any other children (furry or otherwise) so you can focus on the baby. They can also chat with everyone in the family to ensure you’re all on the same page. 

Here’s what this can look like

We chatted to Haley Berryman, who recently had a postpartum doula support her after the birth of her second baby. 

“My postpartum doula dropped in beautiful meals every week for six weeks,” she said. “It was warming, nourishing food to support my recovery, all easy to digest (great for my fear of pooping!). I’d have enough meals and snacks to cover at least five days.”

On top of meal delivery, Haley’s doula spent two sessions per week at her home for two hours at a time. 

“It was all mother-led,” she explained, “so I could decide what I needed. She could hold the baby while I took a nap. I could pop out of the house and she’d come with me. Otherwise, she’d just potter around cleaning, doing laundry, dishes and basic tidying. Plus, there was this ongoing emotional support. I could just talk to her about the baby, breastfeeding and things like that.”

What’s the difference between a postpartum doula and a baby nurse?

Okay, so what isn’t a part of a postpartum doula’s job description? Many mums wonder what the difference is between a postpartum doula and a baby nurse. 

Unlike baby nurses, postpartum doulas provide support to everyone in your family unit. Nurses, on the other hand, focus just on newborn care, and may have medical training to help newborns with special needs. 

Doulas may or may not have medical experience. Some may have different areas of specialisation, however. For example, they may have done some training in lactation consulting or postpartum nutrition. 

This was the case with Haley’s postpartum doula – and she’s not ashamed to admit that the amazing food on offer played a big part in why she chose her doula. Our kinda girl.

How much does a postpartum doula cost?

The cost of a postpartum doula can vary widely, depending on where you live and whether they have any specific training or qualifications. The American Pregnancy Association suggests it could be anywhere from $15–$50 an hour (that’s around $20–$70 AUD). 

Having perused various local postpartum doula websites, many seem to charge around $200–$300 for a three-hour session as a minimum. Some services offer discounted postpartum doula packages, which you can book and pay for in advance. (As Haley did.)

How do you find the right postpartum doula?

This depends on what you want. A quick Google search of ‘postpartum doula near me’ will bring up everyone under the sun. But you may need to be more specific in your search if you want to find a postpartum doula with special skills.

“My friend actually got me onto this lady,” Haley shared. “I hadn’t heard of a postpartum doula before, but when I saw her experience I thought ‘that looks really cool’! I knew how tired I was after having my first baby, and having basic support like good food really drew me to it. ​​My doula studied postpartum nutrition, so she ‘gets’ what mamas need, and uses organic wholefoods in her cooking – she’s really into things that I’m all about.”

Getting referrals from friends, your birth education provider, doctor, or your Mumli community (hello) might help you find someone you ‘click’ with. And it may be useful to contact a few doulas for a vibe check.

When should you hire a postpartum doula?

Some doulas like to start working with you before you give birth. They may get to know you, help you work on your birth plan, and some can even be there for you during your birth. This can be amazing because, as The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states, “continuous one-to-one emotional support provided by support personnel, such as a doula, is associated with improved outcomes for women in labour.” 

If you’ve had your baby by surprise (whoops!) or didn’t get organised in time, you can still make use of postpartum doula services. Many a mother has frantically googled for help during the early hours of the morning and called up a doula in tears.

More than likely, you’ll make contact before you give birth. Haley booked her postpartum package about a month before her daughter was born so she was all ready to go.

Who should hire a postpartum doula?

Anyone can benefit from a postpartum doula, but it may be particularly useful for:

  • First-time parents who have no idea WTF they’re doing and are freaking out.

  • Parents who need help wrangling their other kids during the newborn days.

  • Mums with health challenges (mental or physical).

  • Parents who don’t have much support around (friends or family).

Haley was drawn to using a postpartum doula because she and her partner didn’t have family nearby. She said, “With my family in New Zealand and my husband’s in Melbourne, we didn’t expect to have support at hand. We’re so grateful we booked our doula, because with COVID going around at the time, not many friends could visit us.”

So, do YOU need a postpartum doula? This is really up to you, mama. If you’re showered with support you might not need one. But if a postpartum doula could make your life easier during a hectic, stressful time – definitely give it some thought.

Read next: How to plan for your postpartum

RiverBend Birth, What Does a Postpartum Doula Really Do, Anyway?

American Pregnancy Association, Postpartum Doula

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Approaches to Limit Intervention During Labor and Birth

DONA International, Benefits of a Doula

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