THE PURPOSE AND VALUE OF POSTPARTUM LABOUR SUPPORT
For as long as women have been having babies, they have been supported by other women. In recent times and with the rise of women in the work force, we have been told we can do anything and have everything we want. This is true, of course, but no where does it say we have to do it alone.
There are books, and websites and insurmountable access to information. Those things can never take the place of human interaction and the value of a trained postpartum support person. In many countries around the world, special care and rest periods are observed after the birth of a baby. In China a resting period known as zuo yuezi is observed where mothers are cared for while they rest and bond with their newborn. In Nigeria there is a tradition of the grandmother giving baby his first bath. This is to signify to new mothers that there is a caring and supportive community of women ready and willing to help the new family. North America is a society of go go go, this is true even after a woman gives birth. Often women live far away from their mothers or other supportive family members. Friends and coworkers have little more time to spare than a quick visit. If a woman has a partner, he/she typically doesn’t have much time off to help. Thus, women are left alone with their newborns and older children with the full responsibility of childcare, housework, cooking and errand running on top of trying to get enough rest and healing time. This can lead to overexertion, postpartum depression/anxiety and general exhaustion. When mother isn’t in tip top form, all individuals and relationships in the house can suffer. Can it be done alone? Sure, it can. Is it the ideal set up for a newly formed family? Of course not.
When the new mother has a second pair of trained and experienced hands, transitions are apt to be smoother. Postpartum doulas serve as these additional hands. They are trained in physical, emotional and informational support techniques. Doulas do not take the place of a nurse, doctor, midwife or therapist and can not diagnose or prescribe. What they can do is recognize when a referral is necessary for things like postpartum depression/anxiety or healing at the birth site (vaginal or cesarean) They are trained to know what is “normal” and what needs to be investigated further. They can educate and demonstrate to mother and other new parents appropriate newborn care. They can provide relief for tired mothers to simply be able to catch a nap and grab a shower. Many doulas will do meal prep, errand running and laundry to alleviate some of mother’s burdens. If mom is breastfeeding, postpartum doulas can also assist with latch and assure her that what she is experiencing is normal (or when to seek help!) Some postpartum doulas offer sleep services where the woman or couple get uninterrupted sleep during a set time frame while the doula tends to the children if they wake. Every postpartum doula will offer different services. Some can be hired to support women suffering a loss. There is a doula for every family that needs one. If a family interviews with a doula that doesn’t fit their needs, the doula should help the family to find another doula that does.
A postpartum doula will not be an obtrusive or controlling force in a family’s home. She is there to support and encourage the parents, not push her own ideas or agendas on the family. For example, doulas support mothers to breastfeed their babies and will seek to inform parents on the benefits of breastmilk for mother and baby. However, if a woman chooses to use artificial milks to feed her newborn, the doula respects and supports her decision.
With the support of a trained postpartum doula, new mothers are better able to navigate the transition to parenthood or the addition of another child to their family. There is evidence-based research showing better breastfeeding success when a new mother is supported. She feels less stress and pressure to do everything and be “supermom”, this decrease in stress leads to more rest and confidence in her abilities. Women with help are better able to bond with their babies and heal from their births because their stress is controlled, and they feel supported to take on their new roles.