The Value of Postpartum Support
by Cristin Tighe
How is postpartum support (i.e. having a doula) valuable?
The key answer is: there is someone to care for and support the new mother, the newborn baby and the family in their home the first few weeks following the birth. The most significant thing a postpartum doula provides is “…to foster maximum self-determination” for the mother and also the family. This time, after the birth of a new baby is key as the family transitions, requiring adjustment and rest as well as creating a new, workable routine. There are at least three main areas of non-medical support where a doula can assure that this shift happens successfully: (1) emotional support, (2) physical support, and (3) educational support.
First, postpartum doulas offer emotional support through the key beginning of the postpartum period. A doula provides companionship and encouragement with positive thoughts and kind words to support the woman. This is significant when mother is likely exhausted from the labor/birth process, and is sleeping less than before; also healing after childbirth requires rest. It is useful to have someone to talk mothers through the birth experience, so she feels positive/validated and can get through grief (if the experience was not quite what she had hoped or there was some loss). She may also be emotionally tired, given the adjustment to being a new mother and having responsibility for a newborn all of the time. Additionally, she is trying to get to know the new infant and learn how to breastfeed, which can be a trying, although wonderful experience. A doula can increase the woman’s comfort and self-confidence by talking with her about the experience, helping her manage breastfeeding challenges, assuring the father/partner is adequately involved and supportive of her, and dealing with any baby blues (or signs of post-partum depression). This emotional support is key, as many moms feel overwhelmed with making sure the baby is healthy and well, let alone taking care of themselves or the rest of the family.
Secondly, physical support is a key area of value. This happens with the mother, as needed for breastfeeding (helping set her up, assisting with getting the baby latched on, giving her a drink), with the baby, with the other siblings and around the household. Regarding the baby, postpartum doulas have infant care experience, which allows them to assist with the newborn’s needs. These range from holding the child, so the mother can take a shower, to changing diapers, helping during feeding (positioning the child or feeding the baby a bottle), bathing or changing, assuring the umbilical cord (and circumcision of baby) are handled properly, comforting fussy baby, or even watching out for potential health issues. With the other siblings, support is key as well, because if everyone is taken care of and happy, it is easier to welcome the new baby. The doula can spend time with the other children playing, so they get positive attention, and can involve them by speaking about the new baby and what is going on with their mother, or having them to help. Allowing siblings the chance to be a part of the change, whether it be cooking a meal, or holding the baby, assures peace for all. Around the house, the doula can assist with preparing meals and making sure the family is well-fed and with laundry/general cleaning, so that the environment is clean and nice. Both provide comfort and help everyone’s adjustment. The mother can then rest assured that things are taken care of and not be stressed. Help around the home also allows the family support be giving them time to be together.
Last, the doula plays an important role -- as an educator. Postpartum doulas have knowledge and experience to share about: emotional and physical recovery from childbirth, typical baby blues experiences (or maybe postpartum depression), processing the birth experience, baby care, as well as breastfeeding and what local resources and experts are available. In regard to a mother’s recovery, a doula can work with her to overcome fear by helping her understand bleeding as part of her natural healing process, by making sure the mother has whatever products she needs, and is in touch with care givers to support this healing. She can make sure the mother knows how to take care of her mental and physical needs in terms of rest, food and support. She can help her know what to expect regarding the challenges of breastfeeding and share what to do about tender nipples, getting the infant to latch on, positioning, and how to change breasts so milk production is efficient. The doula can help with the emotional needs of transitioning to motherhood (like dealing with isolation and finding a community of other moms to spend time with after the infant is older). This is especially important for some first-time mothers, who are overwhelmed with taking care of an infant 24-hours a day or being at home, getting back into shape, or struggling and having given up a different life (and potentially a job/career) during this period. A doula’s wisdom provides a mother answers to questions and, as before, assures someone is present and calm. The doula helps the mother by sharing knowledge of local and national resources for the postpartum period (so she is empowered after the doula is gone), as well as making referrals if necessary to local experts who can provide specific support.
The purpose of postpartum support is to advocate for the mother, as well as for the newborn and the family during this period. A less stressful postpartum period gives mom time to take care of herself as well as confidence moving into her new role. It can also help assure the baby is well-fed, clean, warm, comfortable and happy! The implications are important, since a supported, empowered woman is more likely to be calm during this transition, which can translate into a healthier healing process, a happier baby and a stronger family.
• DONA International Code of Ethics: Postpartum Doulas
• DONA International Standards of Practice for Postpartum Doulas
• DONA International Postpartum Doula FAQs
• DONA Internaional Postpartum Doula Position Paper
• DONA Postpartum Doula Training Workshop Manual, 8-10 September, 2006, Facilitator Betsy Schwartz, Charlotesville, VA
• Kelleher, Jacqueline. Nurturing the Family-The Guide for Postpartum Doulas, 2002.
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