Maybe you’ve heard about doulas who attend your birth and who provide continuous support (like massage and help to cope with pain) during your labour.
But have you heard about doulas who come and serve newborn mothers and parents with their newborn babies?
It’s pretty common for pregnant couples to have blinkers on about what comes after the birth, especially first time parents. But I think once you’ve gone through that early newborn phase at least once you’d agree that having as much support on hand is a good idea!
After working with families for over 10 years, and recently focusing this work with mothers experiencing PND/A I can tell you the struggles with a newborn baby and adjusting to parenting are way too common.
Stress is the reality for many new parents. 1 in 5 mothers experience depression during their pregnancy or up to their baby’s 2nd birthday (1). Almost half the women giving birth in Australia are likely to report childbearing as traumatic (2). Suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal death for mothers in Australia (3).
These statistics paint a pretty terrifying picture of the reality for many mothers and fathers with new babies.
Pregnant women’s brains and bodies undergo a massive change that continues after the baby is born. We are wired to look for potential threats and be worried about our babies, often this looks like constantly checking them and being hyper alert to our baby’s cries (4).
However for many parents this normal anxiety may not subside and instead can become overwhelming. The high needs of a new baby coupled with a lack of “village” support around most families easily lends itself to feeling overwhelmed. But it doesn’t need to be this way, and we need to remember humans were never meant to parent in isolation like this.
For me personally all the experience I had from working alongside mothers and families during their pregnancy, birth and early parenting time did not make me exempt from struggling myself.
The sad reality is that there is a major lack of holisitic support available after giving birth, particularly for women who experience a challenging or traumatic birth.
The new mothering phase is a vulnerable time, and a postnatal doula will help you feel safe and nurtured while you learn to trust your instincts and your innate capacity to care for your baby.
A postnatal doula can provide varying types of support depending what a new family needs. Sometimes this is focused on practical help, for example cleaning and child minding for older children. However where doulas can really make the difference for new families is by providing what’s called ‘psychosocial’ support.
Psychosocial support is nuanced and relational, and is based on a safe, trusting relationship. It’s non-medical, and focuses on the emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of life during the perinatal time.
Postnatal doulas come to your own home, so the support is already personalized to your unique family and physically and emotionally meets you where you’re at.
A doula builds a relationship with you and the whole family, and works alongside you to fill the gaps of where you need help.
• Debriefing your birth experience, in a sensitive, non-rushed way. Doulas will listen to your birth story. They will help you put the pieces together in the early days when it can all feel overwhelming and hard to make sense of or remember. Because doulas understand birth, they can help you make sense of some of the medical aspects to your story and help you connect it to the bigger birthing picture in our culture.
But because doulas are not a part of the hospital health care system they are not afraid of really being present for your experience, even if you’re dissatisfied with how your medical care was provided. Unfortunately many parents never get an opportunity to be heard by or ask questions to their care providers after the birth in a meaningful way.
• Postnatal doulas often bring nourishing meals to your home in the early days or weeks. Often postnatal doulas make specialty food specifically for new mothers and their recovering body and digestive system. There are some delicious recipes and books written all about nourishing postpartum mothers. See the Nourishing Newborn Mothers and The First Forty Days books for recipe inspiration!
• Postpartum doulas support you in those early, often challenging days and weeks of breastfeeding. Rarely does any woman find breastfeeding easy in the beginning, even if she has already done it before. Breastfeeding, like other aspects of mothering is so much about our unique relationship with our baby. We are the experts of this relationship.
But often we are not encouraged to trust this, and instead it can feel like we have to keep looking for help from outside experts. A postnatal doula spends time with new mothers, often in a more open and less rigid way and she supports and encourages a new mothers’ innate capacity to parent her own newborn baby.
• Postnatal doulas often offer complimentary holistic health services like aromatherapy or massage. Massage is one powerful way that doulas can help new mothers relax and experience more oxytocin (the love hormone). Feeling loved will directly impact a mothers’ ability to then bond, breastfeed, and fall in love with their new baby.
• Some postpartum doulas also offer assistance with traditional self-care practices, including “belly binding” or “belly wrapping” which is a practice many different cultures (particularly Indigenous cultures) have used to help support a new mother’s physical and emotional recovery.
Feeling supported during this precious perinatal time is very overlooked in Western culture. And the holisitic support women receive is often severely lacking. Even when family is around, they often aren’t fully attuned to how sensitive a new mother is, and how emotionally overwhelmed or anxious she might be feeling. Family also may not know the best ways to help a new mother feel calm and reassured at this time, and at times can instead become an unnecessary burden.
Overall the best thing about a postpartum doula is having a trusting, supportive relationship with a woman who is available for you, and who believes you are the expert regarding your baby.
Your postpartum doula will visit you. Sit with you. And deeply listen to you. Even all the weird and wonderful concerns you have that other mainstream health professionals might not have time to discuss with you.
The bottom line is a postnatal doula is good for your mental health and thus the wellbeing of your whole family.
Postnatal doulas help you to feel more – confident in your ability to mother; connected to yourself, your partner and your baby; and nurtured so you can have a more joyful and peaceful postnatal period.
If you’re in Brisbane, Australia, and you’d like some support during your postnatal time please get in touch. Or search for who can offer this kind of support in your area.
Did you have a postnatal doula? I’d love to hear your story if you want to comment below.
Love + Solidarity,