Most people have heard about birth doulas, but what is a postapartum doula? Our guest blogger, Kimberly Bepler, owner of ABC Doula Services, breaks it down for us. It seems that arranging for a professional postpartum doula could be the smartest decision made for you and your family.
What is the difference between a birth doula and a postpartum doula?
Birth doulas are primarily for the pregnancy and birth itself. They coach you through questions, help get you accurate information, and provide a listening ear when the medical world can only offer you short appointments. During the labor they are there to ease your fear and discomfort, and to help you in ways you can’t even anticipate. They are knowledgeable and comforting and I wouldn’t recommend giving birth without one if you have an option! However, the work they do postpartum is quite different than a dedicated postpartum doula. They might do a follow up visit to go over the birth with you, might present you with photos or mementos about the birth, or might come to check on breastfeeding or provide a meal. That is often their wrap up visit for closure about the birth.
A dedicated postpartum doula comes to serve you, care for you, educate you, and helps you around the house while you are resting and adjusting to life with your baby. They will run a sitz bath for you, hold your baby while you soak your sore bits, change your sheets while you are in there, then settle you back in bed to nurse baby while they make you lunch. They will hold babies while you nap if you are just overwhelmed, listen to your struggles with your in-laws without judgment, and tell you what a wonderful mother you are and how great your baby is. They are also great problem solvers with babies and will help you soothe, bathe, and care for your baby confidently so you eventually don’t need them anymore.
The biggest difference between the two is focus and purpose. Birth doulas are there to help you get through one of the biggest events of your life. Postpartum doulas are there to put you back together afterward and help you be awesome at parenting with skills and confidence.
Are postpartum doulas just for fussy babies?
Postpartum doulas are first and foremost for mamas! Our primary purpose is to nurture new moms and help them recover so they can care for their babies confidently. Moms with fussy babies need us more than moms with calm babies, as it is just harder to cope with a fussy baby, particularly if there are any challenges mom is overcoming from the birth (especially a cesarean, tears or episiotomy, or excessive blood loss she is recovering from). But postpartum doulas are for all families that want some support outside of family and friends…and we help plenty of dads too–sometimes 2 dad families, as well as single dads, single moms, and lots two mama families as well.
What kind of training does a postpartum doula have?
The basic postpartum doula training is usually a 20-30 hour workshop that builds a foundation for on the job training with families. Covering postpartum recovery, mood disorders, breastfeeding, newborn life, emotions, safety, and all the aspects of having a business are usually included. Extensive reading lists add to the instruction, getting CPR and First Aid training is usually required, and some additional breastfeeding education is encouraged. I train for CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association), so I am most familiar with their great program, however I have also been trained with 4 other organizations for postpartum doulas and have seen that most of the programs offer this type of foundational training.
They key with training as a postpartum doula is that it is only a beginning, and the real training happens when you start working with families and encounter challenges that you have to research and problem solve with a real live mom and baby. Each family provides an education, so with postpartum doulas you are really looking for experience as well as foundational training. The training and certification are important, as it outlines the scope of what doulas do, and provides some accountability for the doula so the family knows what they are getting and has some recourse if the doula doesn’t provide it according to the organization’s scope. But experience makes a huge difference in terms of a doula having the skills you need to really support your family, particularly in the case of challenges, or families with multiples.
If you could give some advice to every new parent out there, what would you say?
So much that I teach an 8 hour class series on preparation for baby! The biggest thing say is line up your support. Talk honestly about who is there to help you and know who to call if things get tough…and then call them! Don’t be ashamed to get some support, because it makes a giant difference in how you feel and whether you enjoy your new baby or just ‘get through it’. Couples want to maintain a strong partnership as they parent together (it is much easier to share the load) and that takes support from outside sources. You can’t expect your partner to do it all for you when they have their own challenges. You will be better with helpers who care about you and want you to be awesome! People WILL help if they know there is a need…and some people are better helpers than others!
Who calls you for help?
The biggest requests we get are first time parents who are struggling to understand their baby, families needing help with breastfeeding, or sleep deprived parents of multiples! But we also help when partners go back to work, when the grandparent support ends, when moms have postpartum depression or anxiety, and when the baby is super fussy and no one seems to be able to figure out a sleep solution. Families call us for all kinds of reasons, and utilize our ability to wear different hats in a single visit. Some just want a follow-up visit each week to check in on how baby is doing, get their questions answered, and know they are going to get a nap, shower, and a warm meal each time their doula shows up!
How do you find a great postpartum doula?
First of all, ask your friends! If someone is wonderful, you will hear about it eventually. Check with your providers to see who they recommend; they might have a list for you of trusted doulas. If you are searching blind, start with an organization that certifies doulas like CAPPA, DONA, ICEA, or locally in PDX contact Birthingway Midwifery College. These organizations train and certify doulas and you can find several options there. Then call the doulas you are interested in and talk with them on the phone. Trust your gut. You will need to feel safe and nurtured and if your doula isn’t that way on the phone, she might not be a good fit for you. Things worth mentioning over the phone are your due date, any pets who live in the home, and the general idea of how much support you want. These could be game changers and it is best to know up front if the arrangement won’t work out. Most doulas are pretty wonderful so good luck trying to narrow it down!
Kimberly Bepler is the owner and founder of ABC Doula Service and also trains doulas for CAPPA both in Portland and all around the Northwest. She has worked extensively with families doing doula and lactation support for the past 14 years. She is a Certified Postpartum Doula and Postpartum Doula Trainer with CAPPA, a Certified Postnatal Educator (ICEA) and a Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Kimberly has been working with postpartum families since having an infant of her own, and has a passion for newborns and their families. Since founding ABC Doula in 2001 she has seen the company grow to serve over 1200 families, and loves the collaboration of the team of 16 doulas that has come together, building each year. She also facilitates moms groups and teaches baby care, breastfeeding, and Twins and More classes within the Providence Health System. Kimberly is the mother to two lively school-aged kids, and enjoys the collaboration at home with her husband.