The value of postpartum care is indisputable. The fourth trimester, or the first twelve weeks after childbirth, are critical for setting the foundation for the long-term health and well-being of the birthing person. Yet, recent conversations about the significance of doulas often center survival through the birthing experience alone. With growing conversations about coverage for doula care, we should consider the unique contributions of postpartum doulas to maternal health and wellness so that this coverage is not limited to perinatal care alone.
Postpartum doulas work to provide families with useful information for the period following childbirth. This includes information about infant feeding, physical and emotional recovery from childbirth, soothing measures for infants, and coping skills for parents adjusting to the arrival of their baby. This all falls under the umbrella of social support, which is said to be a significant predictor of the development of postpartum depression. In a nation that often siloes dimensions of community and leaves birthing people isolated within their personal spheres, having a postpartum doula is invaluable. It means that, at that very least, there exists a safe space for parents to express their feelings, concerns, and fears. It also means that there is one space where they are met with empathy, reassurance, and non-judgmental listening.
With pregnancy comes embodied changes that become more evident following childbirth. Postpartum doulas’ expertise in supporting physical recovery is of great importance to new parents, who are only starting their healing journey. After childbirth, the birthing person’s back and abdominal muscles are weaker than they used to be. Postpartum doulas can provide guidance and support to aid in the physical recovery of the birthing person. Additionally, they can offer information on postpartum healing, pain management techniques, and self-care practices to promote optimal healing and well-being.
In addition to supporting the mother, postpartum doulas can support the families in ways that support the well-being of the infant. Postpartum doulas are often trained in breastfeeding support and can assist with latching, positioning, and resolving common breastfeeding difficulties. They can also provide advice on caring for newborns, including bathing, diapering, soothing methods, and promoting healthy sleep routines. Furthermore, postpartum doulas often provide evidence-based information on infant care and postpartum recovery, which allows families to take care of themselves and their infant(s) in their absence. If additional support is needed, postpartum doulas lean on an extensive network of support groups, lactation consultants, and other professionals that specialize in postpartum care.
At the core of the work of many postpartum doulas is the recognition of the significance of material support. Some postpartum doulas create light snacks or meals for their families as part of their services, and assist in the active process of caring for the newborn—like changing diapers and running baths.
While the work of postpartum doulas is of great significance, a major part of their work is supporting the birthing person’s existing structure of support, if present. Postpartum doulas often support partners in their transition to parenthood and offer guidance on how partners can support the birthing person in their recovery.
Lastly, the provision of non-judgmental support, information, and resources, heightens new parents’ confidence in their parenting abilities. They encourage parents to trust their instincts as they test out new practices and modes of care, make informed decisions, and advocate for their personal needs and preferences in the parenting journey.