New motherhood is hard. It comes with hormonal ups and downs and conflicting emotions, coupled with the physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation from having a newborn. How does one navigate all of this while caring for a new baby?
Alexandra Sacks, MD, a reproductive psychiatrist affiliated with the Women’s Program at the Columbia University Medical Center refers to this transition into motherhood as matrescence in her TED talk.
“Here’s the pull part. As humans, our babies are uniquely dependent. […] Oxytocin helps a human mother’s brain zoom in, pulling her attention in, so that the baby is now at the center of [the mother’s] world. But at the same time, her mind is pushing away, because she remembers there are all these other parts to her identity — other relationships, her work, hobbies, a spiritual and intellectual life, not to mention physical needs: to sleep, to eat, to exercise, to have sex, to go to the bathroom, alone if possible. This is the emotional tug-of-war of matrescence.”
A potential solution: the postpartum doula.
The Role of a Postpartum Doula
“We‘re like the fairy godmothers: we come in and clean up your house, clean you up, let you take a shower and a nap, take care of your baby and calm your worries,” Jessica Holt, a certified postpartum doula with Relief Parenting Respite and Resource Center in Dover, New Hampshire tells Parentology. It was her own struggle with postpartum issues that led Holt to becoming a doula to help not just other women, but families.
Postpartum doulas are non-medically trained, in-home care professionals who help new parents with all different aspects of postpartum. This includes physical help, such as laundry, errands, dishes, light housekeeping, meal preparation, pet care, etc. They also offer educational support, answering parents’ questions about baby norms, and presenting them with research and evidence-backed parenting methods if requested.
All certified postpartum doulas receive extensive training regarding breastfeeding education, and many, like Holt, pursue it a step further by becoming Certified Lactation Consultants. They can act as a bridge between the new parents and the community, directing them towards local support groups based on their need and lifestyle.
Postpartum Impacts the Entire Family
Postpartum doulas aren’t restricted to working with mothers. Families as a whole get their attention. Holt explains, “Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job and to get parents confident enough that they feel like they don’t need us anymore.”
In working with the entire family unit, postpartum doulas teach older siblings how to interact with their baby brother or sister and listen to concerns of family members. Interactions like these place postpartum doulas in the perfect position to raise red flags if they notice early signs of postpartum mental health issues in either the mom or her partner. Yes, that’s right; Paternal Postnatal Depression affects one in 10 fathers according to some studies.
The postpartum doula experience is entirely customized to what the families need or want, from the tasks to accomplish, to the frequency of the visits. Most parents start with three weekly sessions of three to five hours, then taper services as they get more comfortable in their new roles.
Cost is often a concern, with postpartum doulas charging anywhere be $15 and $50 per hour depending on location, training level and services required. However, many offer a payment plan, or will charge potential clients on a sliding scale.
For new parents with little family support nearby, or moms at risk of a complicated delivery, the support of a postpartum doula can be worth every cent.