What Is a Postpartum Doula? And What Do They Do?

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When someone is pregnant, they tend to get a whole lot of attention. But then after the birth, most of that attention switches to the baby. That leaves people who are recently postpartum left in the dust. The same is true for people who have experienced pregnancy loss.

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People who are in the postpartum period need support no matter what the outcome of their pregnancy was. That support can be hard to come by in the modern world, with so many people living far away from their families or lacking a support system.

Everyone deserves and needs support after pregnancy. This holds no matter how long they were pregnant, and no matter what the outcome of the pregnancy was. That’s the role of a postpartum doula. 

Definition of a Postpartum Doula

People tend to associate doulas with pregnancy and birth, but a doula’s role can be a lot wider than that. When it comes down to it, doulas are people who hold space and support people during big life transitions, births, and losses. 

There are quite a few different kinds of doulas out there:

  • Birth doulas: Provide support and education through pregnancy, birth, and labor.
  • Full spectrum doulas: Provide support and education through pregnancy, birth, and any outcome of pregnancy including loss.
  • Death doula: Provide support and education for people near the end of their lives and their families. 

A postpartum doula is a non-medical professional who provides support for a postpartum person and their family as they heal and adjust to this new phase of life. If you have ever been pregnant, you know that having support after the pregnancy can make a world of a difference in a time when it’s easy to feel isolated. 

You might not expect postpartum doula to be a job that deals with death, but it does come with the territory. Pregnancy has many possible outcomes, including loss. Postpartum doulas can help support people whether they’ve had a live birth, an abortion, a miscarriage, or a stillbirth. 

Not every postpartum doula feels comfortable or equipped to support people after loss, and that’s totally up to them. If they feel like a client’s needs are outside of their scope of practice, they can help find you someone who can better support you. 

What Does a Postpartum Doula Do?

The role of a postpartum doula can vary depending on their skill set as well as their client’s needs. People hire postpartum doulas so that they can get the care and support they need after pregnancy, as they heal and process the experience. 

Here are just a few of the ways a postpartum doula might support their client:

  • Education: Pregnancy and postpartum can bring up countless questions, worries, and anxieties. Postpartum doulas can help answer these and provide resources for their clients to get the information they need.
  • Healing: Although postpartum doulas aren’t medical professionals, they can help ensure that their clients are healing from their birth or medical procedures, and get them further medical care if needed.
  • Little details: Daily needs like sleeping, showering, eating, and staying hydrated often get overlooked after pregnancy. A postpartum doula can help ensure their client’s needs are being met. 
  • Household chores: If it’s in their contract and comfort zone, they may help with small household chores like washing dishes, dog walking, tidying up, and doing laundry.
  • Meal prep: Postpartum doulas with a knack for cooking can help their clients with meal preparation so they have nutritious meals ready to go when they’re hungry.
  • Other specialties: Postpartum doulas who have other licenses or certifications might offer their clients specific services like herbal care, acupuncture, massage therapy, and chiropractic treatment. 
  • Holding space: No matter the outcome of the pregnancy, postpartum people often just need someone to sit with them while they process their experience and heal emotionally.
  • Perinatal bereavement care: Postpartum people who have experienced pregnancy loss can hugely benefit from having someone who is there to help guide them through this difficult journey.

Although it’s easy to get these roles confused, unless a postpartum doula has specialty training, they are not medical or mental health professionals. Part of their code of ethics is knowing what their boundaries are and when to draw the line. If a postpartum doula believes that their client’s needs are outside of their scope of practice, whether it be medically or mental-health related, they will refer them out to a qualified professional.

Who Typically Uses a Postpartum Doula?

Although many people don’t realize that postpartum doulas even exist, anyone who is pregnant or recently postpartum can benefit from hiring a postpartum doula. Different postpartum doulas may have their own specialties, but they all have the goal to support people in their postpartum journey. 

People who typically use postpartum doulas are those who have had live births. It’s not common knowledge that people who have had pregnancy loss can also benefit from a postpartum doula, but they need that support just as much as, if not more than, someone who has just had a baby. 

These are some reasons why someone might hire a postpartum doula:

  • They have had a late-term abortion
  • They experienced a miscarriage
  • They had a stillbirth
  • They had a live birth 

People who hire postpartum doulas tend to be more affluent or find other ways to prioritize the cost of one. They also tend to live in more populated areas with more options in terms of postpartum care. That being said, anyone who needs a postpartum doula can find a way to access one.

What Are the Benefits of a Postpartum Doula?

Pregnancy is a wild ride and one where people are often left high and dry in terms of care, especially after the pregnancy ends. Postpartum doulas are here to bridge that gap in support.

The benefits of a postpartum doula are endless. Hiring one and not hiring one can be the difference between feeling nurtured and supported postpartum and falling without a net. 

What are some of the ways you can expect to benefit from hiring a postpartum doula? Let’s take a look.

  • Taking care of your basic needs: The little things that we mentioned, before like light chores, showering, staying hydrated, and staying fed and nourished, often get overlooked during postpartum. A postpartum doula helps make sure that doesn’t happen. 
  • Feeling supported: Even if you have a partner, a supportive family, and friends, postpartum can come with isolation. Or like the people around you don’t know how to give you the support that you need. That’s where a postpartum doula comes in. 
  • Empowerment: A postpartum doula can help people feel empowered and affirmed in whatever their experience looks like. 
  • Bonding: Postpartum doulas can help new parents form a bond with their new baby, or create meaning around a relationship with a baby that they lost. 
  • Lactation: People with postpartum and birth doulas tend to have higher rates of nursing or breastfeeding than those who don’t. Many postpartum doulas have some training in lactation or can refer their clients to a lactation consultant. 
  • Advocacy: Postpartum doulas can help show their clients how to advocate for themselves in medical settings so that they can get the health care that they need.
  • Mental health: Postpartum mental health disorders like anxiety and depression can come up no matter the outcome of a pregnancy. A postpartum doula can help minimize this risk by providing different levels of support and watching for signs of mental health issues.

There are so many more benefits that a postpartum doula can provide. It depends on your needs and a postpartum doula’s individual skillset. 

How Much Do Postpartum Doulas Cost?

The cost of a postpartum doula depends on the individual practitioner, their education, experience, and where they are based. The average price of a postpartum doula is between $25 to $35 an hour, and people typically hire them for around 10 hours a week.

Most people book a postpartum doula somewhere during their pregnancy. They are typically required to pay a deposit that will go towards future services and sign a contract that defines the details of the arrangement.

How Do You Find a Postpartum Doula?

It can be hard to find a postpartum doula who aligns with your budget and needs. Outside of logistics, a postpartum doula should be someone that you feel comfortable with and trust in such an intimate setting and time in your life. Most postpartum doulas are either hospital-affiliated, work in a community-based program, with an agency, or have a private practice.

If you’re looking for a postpartum doula, here are some places to check:

  • Volunteer programs: There might be a program that offers free or low-fee postpartum care in your area, especially in major cities. You can Google volunteer postpartum doula programs.
  • Doula match: This network lets people search for doulas in their area while focusing on a specific specialty like postpartum care or reproductive loss.
  • Hospital or birth center: These places have networks and a list of referrals to offer their patients.
  • Childbirth education classes: Prenatal and childbirth classes are a great way to connect with postpartum doulas, and get reviews from other parents.
  • Social media groups: Online groups and forums allow people to connect and give recommendations so that you can find the best provider for your personal needs.

One of the easiest ways to find a postpartum doula is by searching online and reading reviews. If you want the support, there is someone out there for you. 

How Do You Become a Postpartum Doula?

There is no required training to be a postpartum doula. However, many people still benefit from going through training. This is also a way to become certified through an organization whose values align with your own. 

Some great organizations that offer postpartum doula training are:

Some people build a practice just from experience or shadowing with another postpartum doula. It’s often a natural progression for people who have worked as a nanny, or after someone’s own postpartum experience.

Postpartum Doulas are Crucial

The postpartum period often gets overlooked in the reproductive journey. But people who have recently been pregnant need all the support they can get, whether they had a live baby or pregnancy loss.

If you’re looking for a postpartum doula, know that the support you need is out there, you just might need to do a little digging to find the right match. You deserve all the care you can get. 


Sources:
  1. Campbell-Voytal, Kimberly, Ph.D., RN, and Judith Fry McComish, Ph.D., RN, “Postpartum Doulas: Motivations and Perceptions of Practice”. Midwifery. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 4 November 2010. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

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