Last December, Brittany Bright, hired a postpartum doula to help with her newborn overnight. The mother of two shared a TikTok video detailing her nightly routine that ended with her retreating to her bedroom for an uninterrupted night’s sleep. The video went viral and elicited polarizing comments about the postpartum support Bright was receiving from her postpartum doula. Some argued that only a close family member should be enlisted to help out with a new baby. But that’s exactly where doulas are filling a crucial gap in a new mother’s support network. And while doulas provide some practical support like teaching basic infant care techniques, doulas are professionals trained to provide physical, emotional, psychological, and informational support to new parents throughout the perinatal continuum.
Bright’s video has rightfully sparked a conversation about care for Black mothers postpartum, and by extension, how we frame our ideas about Black women and mothers as caretakers, as opposed to being cared for. And maybe even, on some level, being deserving of care. Bright believes the conversation is an important one, and one that is “definitely changing the way we look at care for Black women in the 4th trimester”.
The healthcare system often negates and invalidates Black mothers’ needs for support. And reinforces the harmful idea that Black mothers can simply push through their postpartum hardships. As such, Black women have always relied heavily on their immediate circles for postpartum support. Certainly, out of necessity, but also honoring ancestral tradition. Birthing and after care traditions were often passed down through matrilineal systems, and mothers and aunts continue to play integral roles in a new mother’s postpartum support system. Bright’s own mother was on hand with both of her babies. But as the discourse around postpartum shifts, Black mothers and birthing people like Bright are recognizing supports such as doulas as not just essential care for mama and baby, but also for their immediate circles and communities.
The lead-up to birth and following delivery can often leave new mothers, to varying degrees, physically and mentally debilitated. And while they do their best and mean well, family members are often not equipped to provide the emotional and psychological support that new mothers need in that critical adjustment period following birth. Postpartum doulas, however, have been proven 1 to have a direct effect on recovery outcomes stemming from more positive birth experiences. Having such support can be crucial, especially for Black mothers who are already disproportionately affected by a host of mental and physical complications, such as postpartum depression (PPD) or preeclampsia. Those concerns were chief among the reasons why Bright decided to get a doula.
She says that having a doula “made a world of difference” with her postpartum experience this time around. So much so that she wouldn’t hesitate to get one again. For one, she felt at ease having the support of a professional trained to recognize postpartum health challenges. She also felt that her doula not only alleviated her stress, but also that of her mother and her husband, knowing she was well supported and cared for. Of course, this is not a reality for most Black mothers and their immediate support systems.
It has been well documented that Black mothers face a host of barriers accessing the care they need, both pre and postpartum. Black mothers are 3 times more likely to suffer from postpartum depression (PPD) but less likely to receive treatment. The compounding effects of health and wealth inequities and socioeconomic barriers leave many Black mothers unable to access well-needed support. And, as a result, worn. Their immediate communities are left to shoulder much of that fallout while having to shoulder their own burdens confronting systemic anti-Black racism.
The normalization of family members and friends as placeholders for professional resources adds significant strain to already weathered communities. Centering Black mothers and their needs postpartum have a direct impact on their immediate circles. And while postpartum doulas remain inaccessible for most Black mothers and birthing people, it is time to steer the conversation in a direction that prioritizes Black mothers accessing the support they need to navigate the postpartum period. And, thereby, alleviating the strain that falls onto their families and immediate circles.
Bright says, following her own postpartum doula experience, “I want to be able to show that the more hands you have in-sync willing to care for you – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – and your newborn, the better.
Interested in exploring how you can hire a Postpartum Doula?
1 Gruber KJ, Cupito SH, Dobson CF. Impact of doulas on healthy birth outcomes.