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What a Postpartum Doula Can and Can't Do 

Getting to the postpartum period means you and your family now have a new, miraculous baby with their own needs, emotions, and schedule. It also means you and your body have just developed and birthed a human being, and you are also navigating your own needs, emotions, and schedules as you heal and adjust to your new role as a parent. This period involves lots of changes – including new routines, biological changes, shifting family dynamics, etc. It is a lot to handle, and no one should have to hold it all on their own. Whether it be household tasks, childcare, food preparation, or emotional support, having people around to help and talk to is a game-changer. Beyond what family and friends can provide, postpartum doulas can contribute their experience and expertise, providing emotional, informational, and social support. 

postpartum doula mel haley in chicago looking at a breastfeeding chestfeeding latch to give feedback on baby nursing latch at birth center of chicago
giving feedback on baby's latch

Emotional Support

A postpartum doula can provide emotional support by meeting with new families to discuss a range of things that might be on their minds. Doulas can help you process your birth story and talk about any anxieties you may be carrying as a new parent. They can talk you through your feelings, providing information on what others commonly experience and the biological processes that may be affecting your mood. They can also help partners identify signs of postpartum depression and care for their own emotions. Full-spectrum doulas, in particular, who may have been with you since your pregnancy, will be able to give you individual emotional care because they know you, your needs, and what you and your body have been through. 

Doulas handle clients' emotional needs with extreme intentionality, following practices grounded in literature and other parents’ experiences. This intentional care includes noticing when they may not have the right remedy. Many doulas are adept at dealing with emotions but also know the bounds of their care. Consequently, doulas would be the first to tell you that they are not mental health professionals, but can certainly help refer you to mental health care if needed. 

Recap for Emotional Support

Doula Dos

Doula Don'ts

  • processing your birth story

  • providing information to help normalize your experience

  • providing information about biological processes that may be affecting your mood

  • helping partners navigate caring for your emotions and their own

  • helping partners identify signs of postpartum depression

  • personalizing care based on your needs and birthing experience

  • diagnose postpartum anxiety or depression

  • provide care for postpartum depression or mental health issues that may be better cared for by a mental health professional 

two clients learn about baby wearing during a newborn preparation class and practice tying a wrap

Informational Support 

Doulas can provide a wealth of knowledge, offering advice on how to take care of both the baby and yourself. They can provide advice on sleep schedules, feeding, nutrition, managing hormone shifts, swaddling, soothing, etc. Additionally, they can tell you about the process of postpartum healing and the different stages that characterize it. They often attend postpartum visits with you, helping you identify what questions to ask and how to work with your provider.

If needed, they can also refer you to specialists, such as lactation specialists, pelvic floor physical therapists, etc. (and sometimes they, themselves, provide these services). The best part is, unlike what may happen with your own parents or providers, they share information without a “my way or the highway” approach and will only share with you what you want to know and what is most important for you to know. Beyond sharing the information, they will support you as you implement this new knowledge – coupled with your own judgment – into practice. 

Recap for Informational Support

Doula Dos

Doula Don'ts

  • providing sleep strategies

  • providing feeding support

  • advising about nutrition

  • preparing you with knowledge about postpartum healing

  • providing you with information about hormone shifts

  • referring you to a specialist

  • providing diagnoses for health concerns

  • overriding the birthing person or partner's judgment about how to parent

  • giving medical advice

Social Support 

Even before the baby is born, full-spectrum doulas can help you identify who is in your support network, start building boundaries, and delineate people’s roles, including cooking and childcare. Doulas can also help you grow your network by connecting you to new parent groups and gatherings. Baked into the legacy of doula work is a belief in the power and necessity of community in helping people through the significant / terrifying / agonizing / wonderful experiences of childbirth and parenthood. Consequently, doulas are often committed to helping you navigate relationships and maintain a support network as you adjust to life as a parent of a newborn.

Recap for Social Support

Doula Dos

Doula Don'ts

  • mapping out your support network and planning people's roles

  • building boundaries within your network (with relatives, friends, etc.)

  • connecting you to other new parents

  • navigating family and friend relationships

  • replace social support from friends or family members

Household Support 

Some doulas may help with light household tasks, such as cooking, sweeping, laundry, taking out the dog, etc. if that would be the best way to support you. They also may provide some childcare or night-time support. If a postpartum doula arrives at your house and the sink is overflowing plus you haven't eaten yet, that doula is going to do some dishes and get you fed.

However, there may be better tasks that allow doulas to employ their unique expertise to help you, such as sorting baby clothes by age/month, setting up a changing area, or modifying the baby’s sleeping arrangement. Postpartum doulas are well suited to caring for your baby if you are struggling with feeding, soothing, or if you just need a shower and a nap. You may want to keep that in mind when deciding how your doula can best help you.

Recap of Household Support

Doula Dos

Doula Don'ts

  • light household tasks: dishes, laundry

  • preparing healthy postpartum meals

  • childcare 

  • overnight support

  • heavy or deep cleaning

wyld garden chicago doula mel haley logo

Having a postpartum doula can have many benefits, from better lactation outcomes to helping identify early signs of postpartum depression. They provide the unique service of focusing on the birthing person as much as the baby and their needs. There may be things you look back on and wish you had done differently -- it's only natural -- but choosing to get a postpartum doula will surely not be one of them.

Videos on Biology/Physiology of Postpartum:

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