Thank you for coming on the blog today to share a little bit about what a postpartum doula is and does!
Thank you! There are a lot of people who don't understand what a postpartum doula is or does, and I want to spread the word!
It's growing, and people are starting to ask more and learn more! You have been a postpartum doula since 2009, and a postpartum doula trainer with CAPPA since 2014. So to start, can you tell me how you got started as a postpartum doula, and then into training postpartum doulas from there?
I was an English teacher before I had kids, and although I really loved teaching, I just wasn't passionate about going back to it anymore after I had my kids. I wanted something more flexible. A friend of my husband's is a social worker at a nearby hospital NICU, and she was always talking about how much she loved working with new moms and babies. I was like, "Tell me more!" I didn't want to go back to school to get a social work degree, but she started telling me about postpartum doulas. As soon as she started talking I was like, "This! This is what I want to do." There was a training in our area a couple of months later, and so I got all my ducks in a row, took the training, and started working as a postpartum doula.
Because of my background in education, I always knew that I wanted to eventually train postpartum doulas. Once I heard about CAPPA as an organization, it was kind of the same thing as when I heard about being a postpartum doula. I was like, "CAPPA! These are my people. They care the way that I care." It was a really good fit for me.
So I started hounding them about what I needed to do to become a trainer. Once I got all of the requirements taken care of I started training doulas for them.
That is wonderful! Thank you for sharing that background. So for those that don't totally understand what a postpartum doula is, can you describe maybe the day-to-day might look like for a postpartum doula?
I wrote a blog post about this a while back, because I think there is a misunderstanding about what it is postpartum doulas do. The main thing, is that every day is different, even with the same family. So the very first thing that I do is wash my hands. It's such a simple thing, but it really sets the tone to say, "I am here to serve you, and you don't even have to ask me to do this for you." Then I have a check-in, which is typically with the mom, but sometimes it's with mom and dad, or mom and mom.
I'll ask them to tell me about what they are struggling with, what's going well, how they are feeling. I want to celebrate the good times and help with the struggles. Sometimes they have very specific questions for me, like, "Today, I really want to learn how to use Moby wrap," or, "Today can you show me again how to do paced feeding with a bottle." Sometimes it's a short check-in, and sometimes it's a bit longer. Sometimes we get to talking about the birth, and healing, and how is the mom doing. The conversation can be all over the place!
It may start as a check-in, but it could also be a time for me to normalize what a new mom is experiencing. Or for me to nurture her. For example, if I am working with a mom who has twins, and she's feeling guilty because one twin needs more from her. Maybe one twin needs to be burped longer to get that burp out, or one needs to be snuggled longer to get them to fall asleep, and so she feels like she is not mothering both of her babies equally. I am there to remind her that she IS meeting both of their needs, and help her navigate this new role. I remind them that, yeah it is difficult to be a new mom, and there are going to be days you don't feel like you are doing it right, but here is what I see you doing so well!
Another example might be, mom is exhausted, and we are talking about ways for her to get more sleep. Most people tell a new mother to sleep when the baby sleeps. But not everyone can nap! I meet the mom where she is at, and if she can't nap, that's ok! We can brainstorm other ways for her to get more rest.
Yes, I do think sometimes new moms feel almost GUILTY if they don't sleep when the baby sleeps!
Yes, and the truth is, most of my clients can't nap. Also, when you have a new baby, sometimes it just feels more amazing to actually complete a task. So I will help new moms do that. I often cook for families, but sometimes a new mom wants to make their own lunch, just because it's nice to do something from start to finish.
I am also not trying to push any agenda with new families. I am not trying to fix them, or tell them what to do. I am just trying to help them sort through what's going to work for them, and help them decide where they want to go. So let's say they are only getting 4-5 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, that's not going to make you feel very good for very long. So we might brainstorm that just for a couple days she is going to bed a little earlier, or waking up a little later, or maybe I will come for an overnight visit so I can help them get some sleep. If the mom tries going to bed at 8pm, maybe she will get 6-7 hours of sleep instead of 4, and that can be a game-changer.
That is so valuable! So speaking of the many things a postpartum doula does or can do, can you share with me a little bit about a postpartum doula's scope of practice? Are there guidelines for what a postpartum doula can or cannot do?
CAPPA has a wonderful scope of practice card, and you can read their scope of practice online. I feel that scope of practice protects me and the client, so that I don't try to be everything to the client. I think it can be dangerous for the client when someone that is working with them is doing something that they haven't been trained to do. Like a clinical assessment, or medical procedures. Even if you have seen it done, or you think you know what you are doing, it really protects everyone from assuming unnecessary risk for themselves or their baby.
So when you say clinical assessment, what does that mean? I am sure there is a grey line, like a diaper change, that is ok. Taking a baby's temperature though, where does that fall?
As a mom, of course I know how to take a baby's temperature. But as a postpartum doula, I am non-medical. So I can teach parents how to take a baby's temperature, but I can't do it for them. Clipping fingernails or toenails is another one! That is seen as a clinical procedure, so I can teach them how to do it, but I can't do it for them.
That's what I like to do with most things anyway. I want to teach new parents how to do things so that they can do it without me! Yes, sometimes I take over the care of the baby to allow the parents a chance to rest, or take a shower, or complete a task. But I also want to work with new parents so that they are gaining confidence in caring for their new baby!
And really, if they think their new baby has a fever, or a rash, or something else going on, I really want them to talk to their medical care provider anyway! That's what they are there for! Especially with young babies. A lot of what I do as a postpartum doula is also just putting people in touch with the BEST professional to help them. If they think their baby has a fever, they should go see the pediatrician. If they are struggling with breastfeeding, and working with them on different positions and things isn't helping, I want them to go see the best IBCLC!
Yes, you help them look at what is happening and know what is just a normal part of learning how to be a new parent, and then when it's more than that, you can connect them to the right people for additional support. You can say, "Here's what I see, and here is maybe why, and here is who you can talk to about it!"
We do a lot of referring! We help our clients to find the right person for the job when it is outside our scope, and our clients are so grateful for that to quickly get things resolved and on the right track again!
I think clients do find that so helpful, to have someone right there that knows what they are talking about, and helps you know what is normal or isn't. And it can be so much less overwhelming than just going on a Facebook group or asking Google. Which brings me to my next question: how is having a postpartum doula different from just having friends or family help you after a new baby is born?
Well first of all, I just want to say, that ALL the support is good! I don't replace friends and family at all. Isolation can be difficult for new moms, so having friends and family around is very helpful. Kimberly Bepler, one of the other CAPPA faculty members, always talks about "helpers versus visitors." Helpers are people who will feed you, help you get rest, help you do chores. They are very aware of what YOUR needs are. It's all about you, not them.
Visitors are also awesome, because we LOVE having people come celebrate our new baby with us! But visitors also tend to have things be a little bit more about them. They are not focusing on being there to serve you and meet your needs. So really, you want encourage helpers and limit visitors early on.
Postpartum doulas definitely fall into the "helper" camp. Often, because of our training and certification, we aren't telling people what to do, but we are helping them find what works. We share evidence based information. Many friends and family will share what worked for them, and you can start to feel like you are getting conflicting information. That can be confusing instead of helpful.
Because the role of the postpartum doula is to offer evidence based information and resources, we are really there to help the parents gain confidence for themselves. I am not telling them what I did as a new mom, because I know that all babies are different. Even if you have twins or triplets! So what worked for my baby, might not work for my client's baby.
The first thing I am going to do is listen to what they need and what they are looking for. The second thing I am going to do is educate, or share a resource that maybe I know other moms have found is helpful. Finally, I am going to ask the parents what they want to do. And if they don't know, I will offer suggestions for some things we can start to try, and see what works.
Some people are really quickly going to say, "Yeah that doesn't work for me," so I'll offer the next suggestion. I am also getting to know the parents and their personalities and family-style, so that helps me tailor my recommendations as I get to know them.
Absolutely. Thinking about it in terms of helpers vs. visitors is so helpful, and I think that postpartum doulas even take the helpers role to the next level. You aren't just there meeting needs, you are actually anticipating needs, and helping to fill that in! You are helping to guide parents through the overwhelm, and into discovering what it is they need, and discovering what will work best for them as a unique family.
Yes. I think a lot of people really do come from this wonderful place of just wanting to share what helped them or what worked for them, and they just want to be in it with you. But often times all of that information is not helpful to the parents. It is refreshing to parents that I am not telling them what to do, but rather offering some ideas and just saying, "Well, let's see how this goes!" There are so many ways to do parenting right. Kimberly Bepler also always says, "There are 100 ways to do it right!"
Right, you make decisions, and you work through it, and adjust as needed.
That reminds me too that one of my favorite things to do as a postpartum doula is to just encourage new parents! The times someone tells you that you are doing a good job as a mom, you remember. And new moms don't get told that often enough. So if you are reading this and you know a new mom, put that on your list of things to say. Notice when she does something well, and tell her she's doing a great job!
That is so true!
We often forget that whether it's your first baby or fourth, with each new baby, it's like starting a new job! Nobody is perfect and the best at their job on the very first day. As the postpartum doula I am there to say, "Welcome to the new job! Here are some ways we can make this easier for you!" I can't do parenting for them, but I can help make it easier. I am a wealth of information that I can share with new families. It is such an honor to support families as a postpartum doula.
Jill Reiter is a postpartum doula in the Detroit, Michigan area, and also offers postpartum doula trainings all over the Midwest. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a. If you are interested in learning more about becoming postpartum doula yourself, she has a training coming up in Cincinnati in the Spring, which you can learn more about or register for on her website! You can also connect with and follow her on her Facebook page, The After Baby Lady.
Tender Beginnings also offers postpartum doula services to families in the Cincinnati and Dayton region. To learn more about what we offer, visit our Postpartum Doulas services tab!