I had the pleasure of spending time with one of our postpartum doulas, Lillian Shoupe. She rode to the coffee shop on her bicycle through the Oregon drizzle to share with me how she helps families find their new normal. It seems a lot of people feel that if they have family coming into town after their new baby is born, they won’t need a postpartum doula. We dug in that morning to see just how a doula might benefit every family, even those with a large support network.
I have heard is that having a postpartum doula is a luxury and an indulgence. I asked Lillian about this and she suggested we think of the big picture of cultural perspective and even our past generations. In America we are living in a fast pace, do everything, be everything, pinterest perfect world. We have absurdly high rates of postpartum depression and anxiety (LATEST NUMBERS 1 IN 4?) and higher rates of women not meeting their goals of extended breastfeeding. Many decades ago and going back to the beginning of time, women didn’t do it all and do it alone, A woman would birth at home with her family and her midwife, doulas, her mother, sisters, aunts, and more. She would have the role of taking time to heal her body and bonding with her baby. The village would take care of her. This is how we were meant to spend our precious postpartum time, not this rushed business of our society. It was a slow healing and growing into the mother that her child needed.
Lillian explained that “Getting support in the first month, where you can put other family responsibilities on the back burner and just tend to your personal, physical and mental well being and tending to the baby. Getting as much sleep as you can, You are strengthening your foundation and you can meet your long term goals of your relationship with your baby. It’s sort of like, you have an accident and they say take it easy for a few days. You don’t just get up and start running again. You nurture yourself so you can heal and be well so that you will be healthier later.”
Postpartum doulas help new families find their new normal with evidence based support. What that looks like varies depending on the needs of the family she is serving. Some have a strong support system with basics taken care, meals being brought in and the home being cleaned. In this case the doula may help with lactation and feeding the baby. Doulas assist in increasing understanding of what is happening psychologically as hormones shift from pregnancy to postpartum and expanding the families communication skills.
In a time where lack of sleep, and hormonal changes abound; everyone is figuring out their new family roles.. Lillian has observed that “Even in a really loving relationship, nerves are short and I may come in and see a little bit of that and just by modeling communication between myself and the different parents, they see that as a helpful tool.”
Postpartum doulas are very careful not to enter into the family dynamics with their own agenda. Their job is to follow the lead of the family they are serving and help in negotiating the changes that the family is experiencing. As they experience these physiological and emotional changes the doula can help deepen understanding. This time is very enriching but also overwhelming and so doulas provide lots of reassurance to the parents that what they are feeling is in a realm of normal. Sometimes the doula may notice that it is not within a realm of normal. As Lillian told me, She is not a doctor or a therapist but her training in physiology of women in the reproductive years of their life has given her an awareness of what is normal in this time. If a parent seems to be experiencing something that would fall out of realm of normal such as a deep depression, she won’t diagnose it but she will broach a conversation about it and refer them to more professional help.
So, you have your mother coming in after baby is born, could you still benefit from a doula? Family dynamics are complicated and a doula comes in without any emotional baggage or family history. The doula complements whoever is in the home and their first role is to observe the family dynamic and then model communication that is non-confrontational and supportive of the baby and the parents. The family members coming in to help really do have good intentions although sometimes they may not have a clear picture of how to help and often the new parents aren’t comfortable asking for specific help. Often they feel that holding the baby while the parent does other things will be the most helpful. The doula’s goal is to help nurture the relationship between the newborn and it’s parent/s. This might mean that the doula can gently give the other family members ideas on how to help. Lillian often will ask “how can I help lower your stress.” If she has noticed the dishes overflowing from the sink she may say something like “I noticed those dishes and I wonder if you would like me to attend to those?” Often the mother-in-law will realize there is a task she can do and she will offer to clean them. These can be simple things like changing the sheets, or vacuuming the floor that may have been overlooked by others who were doting on the baby. The doula can notice these details, look for the stress in the parents and offer to reduce it. Whether it’s the doula doing the chores or the mother in law doesn’t matter, they can work as a team through the guidance and observant nature of the doula.
Newborns benefit greatly from having a postpartum doula as well. As I mentioned earlier, having a postpartum doula can help a parent reach their goals of extended breastfeeding and it’s many benefits. The doula can help with breastfeeding by assisting with positions and latch techniques. They help create a space of comfort so feeding is easier. Much like mood disorders, they understand what is normal and can assist with the basics. They can also refer parents to a lactation consultant if extra help is needed. The baby also benefits from having an in-house interpreter. Postpartum doulas are very familiar with the way newborns communicate. As Lillian told me “I love expanding on baby’s communication skills and cues and teaching parents with firsthand experience.” She helps them understand what their babies are saying and encourages them to watch for certain cues and sleep patterns.
Each family comes with their own ideas and experiences. The doula helps reinforce what the parents already know and fill in the gaps by providing education for things they may want to know. For example, providing information about babywearing (carrying your baby in one of many carriers that allow the baby to be worn on the parent’s body.) This allows the parents to bond with their baby and have their hands free.
Here at Blissful Beginnings we have several doulas who can meet the many needs of postpartum families. We start by getting to know a little bit about you and the needs of your family, next we match you to a doula who can meet those needs. All of our doulas provide judgement free support and follow your lead. If you would like to be matched with Lillian or any of our other doulas please let us know. We want your postpartum period to be a wonderful time full of the support you deserve.
-Heathir Brown, Co-Founder of Blissful Beginnings, CPDT, CD (BAI)
Special thank you to Lillian Shoupe for her time sharing about Postpartum Doulas.