Why Become a Postpartum Doula
What is a Postpartum Doula?
A postpartum doula is a doula who may or may not be there for the pregnancy and birth process, but s/he does play a role in the after care process once the pregnancy is over and the mother still has needs.
Oftentimes, this role is agreed upon between the mother and the doula before the child/ren arrive/s. This may involve simply staying for a few hours after the baby comes all the way to a few visits after the family is settled in at home.
A postpartum doula helps with a variety of things. From teaching the proper way to swaddle the baby after the birth to diaper care, breastfeeding and latching. All are key ideas to share with a new family.
A postpartum doula is also used sometimes in the event that a pregnancy tragedy occurs. This can be a stillborn child, a lost pregnancy, a lost multiple, a child with a health concern. Anything where grief will be a part of the woman's life, a postpartum doula can help the woman and her family to find and use resources that are needed right then. A postpartum doula can also assess whether or not a baby is breastfeeding well, and advise the mother of ways to get her infant to sleep better, feed better, or check diapers for normal progress.
Why You Should Offer Postpartum Services
Being a doula is some of the hardest work that you will ever do. Sometimes, it is completely rewarding.
Holding a newborn infant that you were part of their delivery is a euphoric experience. Having parents tell you that they could not have had such a good birth experience without you being present is something that will melt your heart.
On the other end of the spectrum, not every birth goes well. It is in these needier births where a doula is more needed than in any other. Arranging to be there before there is a need gives a woman a sense of comfort. She is able to relax, knowing that there will be someone there after the birth to help her with the care of her baby.
In the cases where a baby is lost before or shortly after birth, the mother's grief is so intense and raw that she may not be able to share it completely with her friends and family. Emotions may be so primal that there are no words for what she is feeling. By being there to support a woman during this dark hour, you allow her to fully experience her spectrum of grief in a safe manner. I held a woman once as she screamed, cried and railed against the whole world. Her grief was so intense that she could not even effectively verbalize what was going on in her head. Her family was removed from the room at her request and I was merely there for her. There to hold her, or hold her hand or keep her from harming herself as she came to grips with what happened. It was an intensity that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
Planning ahead as a doula for these events is something that no doula likes to think about. We all like to think about the beautiful babies that have a happy home.
Taking the time to offer these services means that you are strong enough to offer them. I offer them in passing, saying something along the lines of: "I also offer postpartum services, from newborn care and breastfeeding to other needs. Here is my fee schedule and here is what it includes." Most women sign up for the service. It is an easy way to add to your revenue and provide needed services for your mother.
Other Postpartum Doula Services
There are other postpartum doula services that you can provide. Women that are placing their child for adoption often need support and help through the process to be assured that they are doing the right thing as well as be there for the birth mother after the child has been placed. Although the birth mother knows that she is doing the right thing for herself and her child, that does not lessen the grief that she feels.
Other situations include children being removed from their parents at birth by the state, and children being born in jails and prisons. These mothers are alone with no family to be there while their child is born. Your local jails and prisons can give you more information on these. Generally speaking, these positions are not paid, and you may need to hold a nationally accredited certification, such as DONA to be able to offer them a service. This is an excellent way to get a lot of doula birthing experience and postpartum experiences under your belt. If you live in a large city, you can get a lot of births in a very short time.
Preparing Your Supplies for Postpartum Support
I have binder books that I take with me to every birth. In the one binder, it is all of my little support tools and tricks, how they work and why. Yes, I should know all of them by heart, but if I have to step out of the room, such as to use the bathroom, I can point out the book to the partner and it is by the binder that they are able to continue what I was doing. This often happens in births that become a c-section. Sometimes, only one person is allowed to remain with the mother, and usually it is their partner.
All of the pages in my binders are laminated, not just placed in a protective sheet protector. Birth is messy, and being able to wipe my book down is more than handy. It is a time saver in not having to print off pages again and again.
The postpartum book is radically different. There are a lot of pamphlets in my book that are for hand outs to the mother and partner.
I refer to a lot of places like La Leche League and similar. I also have information, should I need it for darker subjects like infant loss. Those are kept in a separate large envelope in the back of my binder that is not see through. I do not feel the need to upset mothers with that information if they do not need it.
What should go into an infant loss packet?
- Information about infant loss
- Suicide and crisis line support information
- Baby/infant/stillborn loss support groups, with web links if there are any
- Local funeral homes information and contact numbers
- Moving company information if the family wants the nursery removed without having to see the furniture again
- A disposable camera in case the family wants some photos of the baby but did not bring a digital camera with them
- Local church/clergy contact numbers
I also have a prepared large packet for my new family. If the baby is going home with them. It includes how to hold and care for a baby, how often the baby should nurse and general new baby information. I also give a brochure about when they should see the pediatrician, and how to get the baby his or her birth certificate and social security card.
In the times where I am supporting a woman who will not be bringing her baby home, I have a small packet that they get. I have sheets prepared for many different scenarios, listed alphabetically.
In cases of infant loss,I will try and get the baby's small cap from the hospital and the bracelet for the family, if they were able to dress it. I also carry a gender neutral small white outfit in my kit that includes a layette with booties, a cap, a onesie and a tiny blanket with a very small teddy bear. Some parents like that much more than the items from the hospital and they don't want to use items they packed from home.Small items from a lost life become important as proof that the life did exist. Each baby loss, whether adoption or death needs to be respected.
Even babies that are taken by the state for reasons that we don't know or understand are important to the women who will not be raising them. They need to have proof and acknowledgement that the baby did or does exist. By supporting these women and expressing to them that they and this little life have worth, hopefully, we are breaking the chain.
For women in prison, I always ask ahead what I can and cannot bring to leave with the woman when the baby is gone. Generally, they are allowed one photo and to keep the booties and hat that their child wore. I make it a point to get these things for the women. If it is possible, I will stay with the baby when the mother and child are separated, coming back to tell the woman that the baby is safe. This is more important that you realize.
Aftercare for the Postpartum Doula
After you have dealt with a standard postpartum visit, where you see the baby and the mother, and all are well, you don't need aftercare. Seeing such a happy situation is very gratifying.
After dealing with the darker situations, it is important to care for yourself. Write in a journal, express to a fellow doula friend, go to a board online for doulas. Don't let the situation of your clients become your situation. You are there to support them, not be a part of their lives. I know that many sad things that happen are overwhelming, which is why you are providing support. Befriending a client is not a good idea because it blurs the boundaries. They the client will always see you in a support role. I never friend clients on my personal Facebook, but they are friends on my Doula Facebook for the duration of their pregnancy. I always make the settings on my doula page "approve all comments" and "Approve all wall posts". Pregnancy hormones can make people do some incredible things, not all of them good!
Find time for yourself, support yourself, and love the job. You are making a difference.
I love the kind of support that being a doula offers. Every birth I have ever attended, I have felt privileged to attend. Please vote me up or awesome or helpful if you found my hub to be any of these things. I love comments and look forward to seeing yours!