This is a question I’m asked a lot. It follows pretty much every time someone asks me what I do. Either that or they just smile and nod! I’m always hesitant to answer the question of what a postpartum doula does because it’s a bit like the question ‘how long is a piece of string’. Well, perhaps the options are slightly narrower as a postpartum doula but you get my gist! Similar to my experience when choosing a Midwife or choosing an Osteopath, they are not all created equally. That’s not to say that one is better than the other, more that the things that appeal to one mother regarding postpartum support may not appeal to another and vice versa. We are all drawn to different things, different types of people and different approaches. That’s just life. So it’s important when considering postpartum support to find someone that you feel comfortable with.
If you look online you will see all kinds of different services or offerings available. Some doulas are also birth doulas and may offer some postpartum care, others specialise in looking after the new mothers once baby arrives (this is me). Some doula’s have specific sleep or breastfeeding or infant care approaches, some offer their massage skills or draw on traditions from other cultures offering rituals like closing the bones or traditional belly binding. But here I’m only going to talk about what I offer in my postpartum support. After all, that’s what I know, and one of my primary aims is to always keep within my scope of practice.
So, although I don’t offer support at the birth, my journey with the Mother or Mother-to-Be, and in fact with the family, starts before the birth. Ideally some time before the birth.
Why? Because generally, it’s best to be making decisions about who you would like around after your baby is born, BEFORE you are knee deep in your postpartum period and the associated sleep deprivation and overwhelm (ask me how I know haha! - I can laugh about it now). It gives you time to think clearly about what type of support you might need, for us to get to know each other a little, for me to familiarise myself with your home set up (no new mum needs to be bombarded with questions about where everything is by the person meant to be EASING the load), meet any siblings or key family members if appropriate, talk about your hopes for your postpartum time and generally get to a comfortable place with each other so that I can support you fully once baby arrives.
Perhaps you are not necessarily looking to have postpartum support through a doula but you are still wanting to be prepared for postpartum and to plan how best to do that. There are some great books around that can help you plan for postpartum (comment below if you would like some recommendations). My experience however, is that most people focus all of their time reading about pregnancy and birth and never get round to planning for postpartum, then once baby arrives and they realise the enormity of the task ahead there is little to no time to do the reading or in fact much on the spot planning. As I indicated above. I was this person. I had done oodles of preconception care, took great care of myself through pregnancy, had gathered an amazing birth support team made up of my midwife and her support, husband and my closest friend, (who also happened to be living with us for the birth of my first child). Everything went swimmingly. My eldest was born at 42 weeks, so I’d had plenty of time to prepare!!! I had my mum staying with us from the UK and all was well, but, with me going to 42 weeks, mum only had 5 days after his birth with us before she had to fly home, my husband went back to work (albeit part time for the first week) after a week, and there I was, alone for long stretches of the day, with no idea what to do, and no one to reassure me. It wasn’t until 10 weeks postpartum I was able to come out of the fog enough to look for some kind of extra support (postpartum doula’s weren’t around at the time), it took another 2 weeks before any kind of support arrived.
Not only is this ^^ why I became a postpartum doula, it is also why I run postpartum preparation workshops, so that pregnant women, and ideally their partner, can gain a better understanding of what to expect, and more importantly, what they can do and put in place to help create a more blissful postpartum than I experienced. At the workshops we look at the history of postpartum support and how other cultures do it (generally they do it BETTER in my opinion), we look at WHAT makes for a blissful postpartum and WHY, we actually DO some postpartum planning, I share with you some TOP TIPS, and give you the tools you need to set yourself up for a postpartum that is filled with peace and joy.
So, you’ve done your postpartum planning and let’s say, you look around at your village and, in reality, it’s a pretty busy village, or most of your village live in another state or the other side of the world, and you decide you want to work with a postpartum doula. What then?
Well, again, if I were the Doula, we would usually meet to talk in more detail about your hopes for postpartum, to learn about you and your family, to hash out what kind of postpartum package would suit your needs and to put in place some provisional plans for how I could best support you. We’d then keep in touch as needed through the rest of your pregnancy and once baby arrived we’d arrange a time for the initial visit. Usually I’d check in the day before the visit to see whether there is anything specific you may need when I come or that you need me to pick up on the way. At the start of each visit we’d spend a bit of time connecting and identify together what you most needed from the day. Whilst I may have some thoughts on the visit, what you need from day to day can change dramatically, especially with the change in hormones over the first few weeks, so my plans are always FLEXIBLE. I usually aim to make some nourishing food each visit (unless it’s not wanted), provide some comfort to the Mother either a foot rub or work through some self massage, give you time for a shower or relaxing bath, perhaps entertain your other children so that you can focus on nurturing your bond with your new baby. You may need laundry done or for the place to have a tidy. We may do some gentle yoga to nurture the body and mind. As you start to think about leaving the house you may even want me to accompany you to appointments or to a mothers group (sometimes especially helpful if you have other children at home). My focus is bringing you peace and joy during this important time. It may seem highly aspirational or indulgent to have that as an aim. But I look at it this way. There’s going to be a lot of change, you are more than likely going to be deprived of sleep, there are times when you are going to feel out of your comfort zone and, on occasions, completely out of your depth, BUT if you can be well nourished, cared for, heard and understood throughout that time, it can completely change your experience.
I always come back to the words of Ysha Oakes who said,
“After birth there is a Sacred Window of time... the first 42 days after birth set the stage for her next 42 years.”
That’s pretty huge. Dr Oscar Serrallach, who recently wrote The Postnatal Depletion Cure also states “postnatal depletion isn’t just about physiology - it’s about how and why mothers don’t get the emotional and social support they need when they need it most.” Whether that support is achieved engaging a postpartum doula, through building and calling on your village, a combination of these, or through other means, my aim is to help ensure that new mothers are nurtured, nourished and supported on their journey into motherhood, to support them in developing self trust and the confidence to be the mother they want to be. What I won't be doing is showering you with advice about how BEST to do everything. Why? Because I honestly believe that you have the answers within you, and if you're struggling to find them, then it's my job to create and hold the space for you whilst you explore and find the answer unique to you and your baby.
Hopefully this starts to answer the question of what a postpartum doula does, or at least, what I do. I’ve focused, of course, on the work I do with clients. I’m sure no one is actually asking about our admin task or the intricacies of how we run the business, sourcing any products we use or creating our material when they ask what I do, though that absorbs a good deal of many self employed persons week.
If you have any questions about the role of a postpartum doula, or how I work, I’d love to hear them. You can comment below or use the contact me button to get in touch.
Until next time…
I’m Anne, Mum of two, Postpartum Doula and Yoga Teacher specialising in Pregnancy and Postpartum Yoga. I run Postpartum Preparation Workshops and Yoga Classes on the Sunshine Coast alongside In-home Postpartum Support and Yoga for new mothers who don’t want to settle with exhaustion and overwhelm being their introduction to motherhood. You can enquire about or book my services by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or click here: