“So, erm, what do you actually do? I mean, like, what do they actually pay you for?”….
This is a question I get asked a lot. Funnily enough, I’ve never heard my husband been asked this (he’s a Civil Engineer. No, me neither…). Nor have I heard a Solicitor, Estate Agent or Shop Assistant been asked this. And I’m pretty vague on exactly what they do when they are actually doing what they get paid to do.
My job is a Postnatal Doula. And, if you’ve ever had a newborn baby, you would think you would know what this job could entail. But even some of my mum friends have asked me the question.
And to make matters worse, it’s sometimes hard to explain and hard to make it sound just as hugely life-changing as it can be. There is often much talk of Birth Doulas, particularly now the Duchess of Sussex is thought to be engaging the services of one for her imminent birth. And, to a certain extent, that side of the job is easier to explain.
Essentially, my job as a Postntal Doula is to “mother the mother”. When a woman has a new baby, be it her first or her fourth, her body has gone through a huge experience. She may have had a completely hands-off unmedicated birth at home, or she may have had a complicated ceasarean birth with a poorly baby. And every thing in between. Whatever the circumstance, her body needs healing time. And lots of it.
If you needed to heal from a other major physical event, you would expect sleep, nourishment, perhaps a friend to stay to take up the slack or at least close monitoring by medical professionals and possibly pain killers, rehabilitation professionals, pastoral guidance and support if it were a life-changing event you had been through.
“You have captured just how it felt having you as my postntatl doula not once, but twice and how incredibly lucky me, my husbad and two bubbas were to have you come into our lives when you did. We certainly had our shares of luaghs, tears and you being my biggest cheerleader when I needed it. Thank you doesn’t really cut it. Best, best decision I ever made as a soon-to-be/new mum”
Not so the new mum, she has a precious baby to take care of, night AND day. And is often alone and ‘in charge’ of the baby within a few hours of birth. She may have sore breasts that are going through their own physical event (or several, on an hourly basis), perhaps visitors, maybe other children to take care of, life admin to see to and a home and new baby to manage. And all whilst recovering from aforementioned physical event. AND whilst learning this, sometimes completely new, and oh-so-important role of being a mother. Thank goodness she has a husband to support her. Oh, hang on, two weeks of paternity leave if you’re lucky? Then what?!!
So that’s where a Postnatal Doula can help. If you’re lucky, you have a mum or sister who can offer you support during your 4th trimester (which is the first 12 weeks after a baby is born - the theory being that human babies could really do with staying in utero for a further 12 weeks, until they have developed a little more, but due to the logistics of our big brains and small ‘exit channel’, we are born premature, compared to other mammals). But your mum/sister/best friend may also have their own lives and families to take care of, so can only do so much. Friends are awesome, but they often want to see the baby, enjoy the cuddles and expect a cup of tea.
On top of all this, the new mum will often have an emotional load to navigate. The overwhelming emotions associated with her birth, her new role, this whole new human dependent on her and, of course, the much lamented sleep deprivation.
“My friends and family were great. But I felt a bit self-conscious all the time, like I should know what I was doing. With my postnatal doula no question was too stupid. On the days that she came I knew I was going to get some rest, feel safe and get on top of things. She was my new mum secret weapon!”
A doula will come in and be there JUST for the mum (and the dad, baby and other children, by default). She will help you get some sleep, help you take in nourishment, help you keep on top of the house ‘stuff’ and generally be your right hand (wo)man. She has experience and training. Experience of her own children (although it’s very important to her that you do this mum thing YOUR way, not hers) and all the many mums and babies she has supported before. She has at least trained in how to be a doula, if not other wonderful additional skills also (breastfeeding, nutrition, yoga, alternative therapies, massage, placenta encapsulation, counselling, to name but a few). And if you need something that isn’t in her skillset, she’ll know where you can find it. If she is like me, she might even know a few ‘back door routes’ to get you the specialist professional you need in a hurry. She has contacts, patience and kindness for you, in spades.
I am registered with Doula UK. The national body for regulation of training and ongoing standards of doulas within UK. I am also lucky enough to be a Doula UK Doula Mentor, this means I get to ‘doula the doulas’, those that have just started on their doula journey and may have less experience, although the training and background ethos is usually very much the same. I always remind my Mentored Doulas that we are ‘blank canvasses’ for our mums. We do not come with pre-conceived ideas on how to feed, settle or mother a client’s baby. Although we have tons of information in our doula tools bags, we support mums to find their own way, their own confidence and help them find their instinctive internal voice for their unique child and family.
So what does a typical day look like? It kind of depends how old the baby is. How the birth was. How many other children/family members there are. Whether you will be there every day or just once per week. In the early days there is lots of practical baby support: helping mum to learn to feed, clean, settle and care for baby. Ensuring mum has plenty of rest and nutrition, perhaps tucking both mum and baby (or babies, let’s just spare a thought for the multiple mum) up in bed whilst you get on with some light household chores. Perhaps debriefing her birth experience or helping her get to grips with her physical recovery. There may be visitors, both social and professional to help her organise. Later on, the typical day looks different. We can help mum get out of the house, perhaps help her get to grips with her new baby carrier, watch the baby whilst she has a nap, show her how far she has come, help her to read her baby’s cues, perhaps start to investigate different feeding positions and exploring normal infact behaviour (sleep is the biggie here!). And then, later still, we start to see a more confident mum emerge, perhaps there is a little ‘expectation setting’ at this stage (when will they sleep through the night? when will my body feel like it used to? is it normal for my baby to cry/not want to be put down? Etc. No question is off limits for your postnatal doula).
So what does all this love, care and support actually do? Is it just a nice-to-have luxury? Shouldn’t we just all get on with it and be okay? We all know lots of women who didn’t have a Postnatl Doula and survived. Well, here are some interesting stats for you:- At 6 weeks postpartum a new mum is twice as likely to to feel depressed if she hasn’t had a postpartum doula (23% versus 10%). Her satisfaction with her partner is significantly better if she has a doula (30% versus 71% reporting relationship is better right after birth), and 55% of mothers who had a doula (as opposed to 17% who didn’t) feel their baby’s cry less than others. So benefits of a doula can positively affect mum, partner and baby. *
“I thought it was a bit of a luxury hiring a postntal doula. But now I’m not sure how I would have managed. Recovering from a c-section and trying to learn to breastfeed, all whilst looking after a toddler, would have been impossible without her.”
If you think you might be interested in hiring a doula or finding out more, you can visit www.doula.org.uk for a list of doulas in your area. It’s a great idea to interview some prospective doulas and choose one that you feel you really click with. Don’t worry if you have left it a little late and are reading this during the night feeds wishing you had known all this earlier. We receive many calls from mums who’s babies are several weeks or even months old and we may have availability to support you.
To close, doulas fill the gap in this modern, developed society of ours where midwives are now (thank goodness) extensively trained medical proffessionals, but no longer with the luxury of spending longer periods of time supporting new mums. We possible don’t live in close communities with our female relatives anymore and spend little time learning about new born babies before we have our own in our arms. A Postnatal doula is your sister, mother, best friend, professional carer, personal cheerleader and housekeeper, all in one. You’ve probably heard the phrase “it takes a village to raise a baby”. Consider your Postntal Doula a kind of rent-a-village/Mary Poppins/baby whisperer type and you’re kind of there!
Trudi Dawson is a Recognised Birth- and Postnata- Doula with Doula UK. She is also a Doula Mentor, FEDANT-approved Antenatal and Breastfeeding Teacher and Yoga Instructor. She runs Mothering Mojo, offering support to women during all life stages via education, yoga and practical/emotional support. www.motheringmojo.com
*Woman, WL., Chalmers, B., Homeyr, G.J. et al. Post-partum depression and companionshp in the clinicalbirth environment.Arandomised, controlled study. Taken from The Doula Book by Marshall H. Klaus, MD, John H Kennell, MD and Phyllis H. Klaus, CSW, MFT