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  • Kelcey Gillingham

Purpose & Value of Postpartum Support

In many cultures, the weeks following a baby’s birth are celebrated and the new mother is cared for by her close friends and family. Ideally, this period is 40 days long and the mother is nurtured and cared for in many ways. She is supported by giving her time to rest, recover and regain her strength and to bond with the new baby while it adjusts to the new world. Some call this essential period of time a “lying-in period” or the “fourth trimester”. It is also a wonderful time to establish a breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby.

A postpartum doula is a non medial professional, that has trained under a widely known organization, such as DONA International. A doula is trained with the highest professional standards and learning skills to support families with evidenced-based information and with the ability to guide and accompany families into their new roles. By providing families with excellent support service during the tender and most fragile postnatal period, postpartum doulas are becoming more beneficial and are known to improve the postpartum period for many.

Research says that new parents who have support and feel cared for during the fourth trimester feel more confident and are successful in adapting to their new role. Women who are able to care for themselves and the baby have a lower rate of postpartum depression and a greater chance of breastfeeding success. Without instruction on how to care for mother and baby, the partner is included and supported with education on what to expect from a newborn, feeding, bonding, baby-soothing skills as well as tools to help care for the mother, thus leading to a more enjoyable experience for both parents.

In our modern society, women are made to feel like they should “bounce back to normal” and their feelings and body should be what they were 10 months prior. The men are made to return work earlier leaving the new mother to be secluded and begin motherhood with no extra support in looking after their newborn or for the father to have time to bond with his new baby or receive guidance in newborn/ new mom care and support. Slowly this idea of what “should be” is being recognized as not being the best start for mom or dad, but in some families it is not a matter of choice.

The postpartum doulas role is to allow the mother to take time to recover from pregnancy and birth - both mentally and physically, and take in all that is new in motherhood. This is often called “Mothering the Mother”. The postpartum doula helps guide the mother and family in basic newborn care, evidence-based information, promoting healthy nutritious snacks and meals and hydration, researches what the mother may question providing realistic resources and ensuring the family is thriving within their new life as parents or parents again.

The postpartum doula acknowledges specific areas of support such as light house keeping, running errands, assisting with sibling care and the transition of adding in a new family member so that parents can take time to bond equally between all children or more time to create an ever-lasting bond with the new baby. Other roles include meal planning and prepping healthy meals and snacks, basic newborn care and feeding support, and having another person to watch the baby while the mother takes time to self reflect and take time for herself. The postpartum doula not only offers physical support, but is also a listening ear and voice of emotional support as well. A postpartum doula is also trained to watch for signs of postpartum mood disorders. While they are not medically trained to diagnose a postpartum mood disorder, they have a resource list prepared and always available to refer the mother and family towards local professional and medical support.

Postpartum doulas are a wonderful physical and emotional support person, but there are boundaries to limit what types of support postpartum doulas do. The role of the postpartum doula is one of NON-medical support. Healthcare professionals such as doctors, midwives, nurses and others are responsible for the health and well-being of mother and baby. Postpartum doulas are not responsible to diagnose symptoms of postpartum mood disorders, health symptoms in regards to mother or baby – such as blood pressure, check caesarean incisions, taking temperatures, handling rashes or respiratory issues. A postpartum doula is also not lactation consultant, so they cannot diagnose tip or tongue ties, latch issues, under/over supply issues, offer herbal medicines to support supply issues as well as address colic and digestive health. The postpartum doula is able to listen to any concerns and professionally make referrals to quality care providers such as lactation consultants, pediatricians, counselors and support groups, doctors and offer appropriate and available local resources.

A DONA trained postpartum doula follows a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, which is a guide to the doula’s role and professional development. This explains that a postpartum doula should strive to become and remain proficient in the professional practice and performance of their role. They are responsible to their clients as well as respecting their privacy and hold in confidence any information shared between the family and the doula. When a postpartum doula agrees to work with a family, their obligation is to do so reliably and respectfully. They are to work respectfully and fairly with fellow doulas. A DONA trained postpartum doula is also encouraged to always be learning through continuing education and through online evidenced-based resources staying up to date on new research. They do this by taking extra courses, workshops, and watch webinars to enhance their knowledge surrounding the postpartum period. A postpartum doula honours the Scope of Practice, which involves the doula caring for the mother and her family in their home following birth as well as acknowledging that the doula does not perform medical tasks and will not diagnose or provide treatment and supports the family physically and emotionally.

The value and purpose of a postpartum doula is different for each family. Some families I have personally worked with know exactly what they are looking for in a postpartum doula. One of my families wanted extra help with children, and meal prepping - a more physical type of support. Another family expressed that she appreciated the listening ear and local and online resources – a more emotional provided support. While those two specific families asked for different types of support, they each felt nurtured and also taken care of with the opportunity to bond with not only their new baby - but their growing families too. Throughout my time with those families, I watched as the mother became more confident in her role as a mother and woman - which is my goal as I support my families. I couldn’t be more proud to call myself a postpartum doula and I am eager to work with and learn more from the people in my community.

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