If you haven’t heard of a postpartum doula, it’s hard to grasp what it is exactly they do. Birth doula supports people before, during and immediately after birth. Postpartum doulas help parents navigate the often overwhelming and challenging time of their life with a newborn. Many parents describe the fourth trimester as living in a “fog.” A postpartum doula comes to you in your home and offers emotional support, practical support, resources and referrals if needed, hands-on help with baby, bottle or chest/breastfeeding and help with household tasks.
I thought I could just interview my colleague, Charissa Warne, who is a postpartum doula in South Bend, IN with questions I usually hear! She was happy to help educate us!
So… what does a postpartum doula actually do?
This is a question I get asked a lot. It looks different for every family but it boils down to this: I help everyone in the household prepare, adjust and heal in the early weeks of welcoming a new baby into their home. Whatever that might look like for them. It can also be supporting families who adopt or foster.
- It often involves caring for the newborn while someone takes a much needed shower or nap. I’d say 99% of my visits involve someone taking a nap at some point.
- It looks like washing and sterilizing bottles while one parent feeds the baby and we talk about how night time sleep is going and we brainstorm ways to get sleep during the day.
- It’s a lot of conversations about poop.
- It looks like sitting on the couch with a cup of tea and processing the birth and talking about fears and anxieties.
- It’s helping support your mental health and providing resources for you to do a self assessment around two weeks so you can get help as early as possible with any postpartum depression and anxiety.
- It can be doing physical tasks like vacuuming and walking downstairs to flip laundry so the birthing person can heal.
- Directing people to community resources, lending them books, teaching them how to use all the gadgets they were gifted (swaddles, wraps, slings…).
- It looks like being a companion in this wild and beautiful journey: knowing that someone is coming back to your house to check up on you, support you and care for you in a time when your every waking (and sleeping) moment is dedicated to caring for someone else.
What made you decide to become a postpartum doula?
I think postpartum is the most forgotten part of welcoming a child into your home. People may dote on you while pregnant and spend hours talking about baby names and birth and throw you a shower where they give you stuff. But it’s rare that parents get preparation about “the fog”, about postpartum constipation, about feeding and about WHY rest is so essential to postpartum healing.
I think we were meant to live in community rather than isolation and I think we were meant to raise our babies in a village; our very individualistic American culture makes that so difficult. My first child was born overseas in England where there is much more postpartum support: I took 9 months of maternity leave before going back to work and had midwives and lactation consultants visit me in my home. It wasn’t easy having a newborn but the support I had allowed me to rest and heal.
My second child was born here in Indiana where I was sent home from the hospital with a baby and a bill. No healthcare professionals came to visit us in our home and we were left to figure things out on our own, but this time with a toddler also running around. I don’t want anyone to go through postpartum alone.
I have a background in working with children and families (years of elementary teaching and nanny work) so it felt like such a natural transition for me. It takes a whole lot of hands to care for parents and new babies. Everyone caring for a new baby deserves care themselves – that’s why I do what I do.
If I have family or friends coming to help us with a newborn, do I really need a postpartum doula?
The answer to that question really depends on your family and friends and your relationship with them. I’d sit down and think about the help that these people are going to provide and what they will require of you. Will you have to clean the tub before they arrive and cook meals for them? Are they just interested in holding the cute baby or are they also prepared to do laundry, change your sheets, vacuum and run errands for you? What is their availability? Do they work full time or live far away? What is your relationship like? Are they someone you feel comfortable processing the birth with, talking about sore nipples and postpartum bleeding? Will they help you navigate the difference between the baby blues and postpartum depression?
Most of my clients have also had family come into town to visit (who doesn’t want to meet the new baby?!). For some of them their family was really helpful but they maybe only stayed for a week so they scheduled visits with me before and after their company. Other people have family that is not helpful in the least and can bring stress and anxiety into a home that should only be experiencing rest and support. In that case those people may want to schedule postpartum visits even when they have visitors. Part of my postpartum plan is thinking through these relationships, who you want in your home and setting those boundaries before baby arrives.
If my partner has paid parental leave, do you still come to help?
Absolutely! I have supported families where both parents are home on leave and let me tell you- everyone needs a nap, a cup of tea and support. Most first time parents are really surprised by how much work it is to care for a newborn – with 8-12 feeds a day, diaper changes, laundry, pacing around the house soothing the baby, all while totally sleep deprived and healing from birth, it can be a lifeline to have someone come in and help care for the parents as well.
How long are you usually there to help?
I work in 4 hour shifts. This is kind of a gold standard for many postpartum doulas. Four hours seems to be the right amount of time to help everyone in the house get a nap, shower, process anything they want to talk about, do some meal prep and other practical household tasks.
As for how many 4 hour shifts you want/need – that’s up to you and your family. We start with a minimum of three visits and you can always add on more based on how everyone is adjusting and healing.
I find that the most help is needed in the first 6 weeks, primarily the first 4 weeks for most families. Even though it feels like the fog will never lift I promise that you’ll be back on your feet and into a rhythm before long. When you allow yourself all the help you need in those early weeks you set yourself up to thrive.
What regions do you serve?
I live in South Bend and am happy to drive around 30-40 minutes for clients in any direction. I must admit I love driving up into beautiful Michigan.
When should people book you?
When you are ready. When you need support. The answer to this question is different for everyone.
Hiring me while you are pregnant gives us the opportunity to get to know each other and set up a postpartum plan before you give birth, which can be incredibly helpful in those early days at home with your new tiny baby when everyone is a bit bleary eyed. Think of it as a postpartum-shower but instead of giving you a bunch of baby gear from the store, we prepare you with information and practical ways to get ready for life with a newborn.
Many people don’t know that postpartum doulas exist or aren’t sure if they will need one. So if you are finding me when you are already home with a new baby and you realize you need extra care and support that you didn’t anticipate, you are not alone in that experience. This is the right time for you. It can feel overwhelming to ask for care and support but this is my entire mission. I am truly here for this very moment. We thrive and survive in community and postpartum requires all hands on deck.
I’ve had families hire me while only a few months pregnant and I’ve also had families find me at 4am via a google search after being home with their baby for a few weeks. I’m happy to jump in with families when it’s the best time for them.