What is a postpartum doula?
A postpartum doula will provide non-medical support for the educational,
emotional and practical needs following childbirth or adoption, in your
home. The professional (typically a woman) is a non-judgmental support
person, and services can include the following as needed: care for mother’s postpartum body; assistance with breastfeeding and new baby needs; infant massage techniques and referrals; assistance with siblings; support for mother’s normal adjustment to the parenting process; running errands, cooking and dishwashing; doing laundry; emptying trash and other light tidying.
The postpartum doula assists with transitions that accompany a newborn being welcomed into a family, and she works beside the family to foster confidence and knowledge during that special time. Each family must make informed decisions based on what works best for them, and the postpartum doula is there to support those family decisions in the process.
Because families may live far apart, or busy schedules and work are in
process for close family and friends, the postpartum doula can fill in the
support gaps for new families needing assistance.
Most postpartum doulas are independent contractors, so there may be slight variations with postpartum care. Individual contracts will spell out the differences and similarities. Most have had experience with newborns and children in other settings, either through having children themselves or
assisting with family or friends. Some also have nanny or babysitting
In general, postpartum doulas wish to help during an important time of transition with a newborn joining the family. They should know what is typical for newborns and family adjustments, as well as referrals for other support professionals, if needed. It is also helpful for the
postpartum doula to know accurate information regarding breastfeeding, as many mothers require factual information and encouragement in this area. Most importantly, trust your instincts, and interview as
many as you feel comfortable to find a good fit for your family’s needs.
What are some typical interview questions to ask?
[Questions are taken from “Choosing A Postpartum Doula” by Kelli Way, ICCE, CD (DONA) 1998.]
- Are you available around my due date?
- How many hours a day are you available?
- Do you have a minimum number of hours to work per day?
- How much do you charge, and what is included?
- Who is your back-up, and can I meet her?
- When would you send your back-up?
- What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
- How do you feel about breastfeeding?
- What books do you recommend to new parents?
- Where did you get training? Are you certified by an organization?
- How long have you been a doula, and how many families have you served?
- Do you have any special training that you use? (lactation, massage, etc.)
- May I call two of your previous clients?
Should she be certified?
There are certifying organizations for postpartum doulas, including
Childbirth And Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA), Doulas of North America (DONA), and National Association of Postpartum Care Services (NAPCS). Website searches will give you more specific information on programs, as well as referrals for certified postpartum doulas in your area.
Certification does offer a more standard knowledge base, in this particular
area, and it is always an option for someone pursuing this career.
Certification also provides an opportunity for postpartum doulas to get
continuing education in the field, to stay current with necessary
As a family, you must decide if you want a certified professional for your
family’s care. There are wonderful postpartum doulas with varied
experience, who choose not to certify. Educational background may be
appropriate, as well as personal parental experience. Each postpartum doula works differently, so interviewing with specific questions is important to gain the information you need. Trust your instincts, as you decide who will help your family during this important time.
Where do I find a postpartum doula?
In the Kentuckiana area, Birth Care Network maintains a referral list of
local contacts. They are members listed under the heading of Postpartum
Doulas, on the referral list. Often postpartum doulas are found by word of mouth from previous families who have used this type of service. It is often useful to talk with mothers who have used a postpartum doula with their family.
The certifying organizations for postpartum doulas also have websites with contact information for individuals in your area. Some members are certified and some are not, but it is another way to find local postpartum doulas.
What do postpartum doulas charge?
Rates for services vary depending on education, certification, experience
and location. Each postpartum doula works independently, so her contract will reflect specifics of what she will and will not do for families. If
she is certified, there are considerations from her certifying organization
that may need to be addressed with families (code of conduct, scope of
practice, etc.). In general, postpartum doulas charge hourly (approximately $20 per hour), and it is important to ask what is provided in the fee.
Some charge extra for meals, mileage and other special services. Some
provide hourly packages and payment options to use credit cards, while
others do not. The contract should address these types of specific
information for families.
Will she help with breastfeeding?
A postpartum doula should know basic information on breastfeeding, to help mothers who choose this feeding method. She should also have referrals to professionals who can help with any problem solving beyond her practical knowledge. If problem solving is needed, she should have a list of Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) for a family to contact. Hospitals have these professionals on staff as well, and
it is important to get breastfeeding off to a good start just after the baby is
born. It is important to address questions as early as possible, and the
postpartum doula is there to support the family during this process. She
can help with feeding charts if the pediatrician needs to see progress, as
well as helping mother rest and have the adequate time with her baby to not feel rushed in the process. The postpartum doula can assist with other household tasks or siblings while the mother is breastfeeding her newborn.
Certifications typically require classroom instruction or distance learning
modules on breastfeeding specifically. It is important for families to
have factual information in order to make informed decisions concerning newborn feeding.
Will she provide babysitting services or be a baby nurse?
Because postpartum doulas are independent contractors, each contract should address services provided. In general, postpartum doula care is provided during the first few months after the newborn comes home. It is transitional care, while the mother gets back on her feet physically and organizes how life will proceed with an extra family member present.
General babysitting is typically not done during postpartum care, but there are doulas who will do this service in addition to postpartum care, or beyond the first few months. Typically after the first few months, the mother is going back to work with nanny care, or making long-term arrangements for respite care while she works at home with her children.
The postpartum care that is done with siblings is in conjunction with a mother’s routine day at home with the children, or assisting during errands such as doctor visits. The assistance with siblings allows the mother to care for her newborn and rest physically, while normal household tasks are being done. Postpartum doulas provide extra hands for routine tasks, and they do not replace the mother’s role in the house with the children.
Some postpartum doulas will provide nighttime feeding care. This care is
especially common with families of multiples, during the first few months.
Baby nurses take over complete care of the baby (or babies), and the care typically covers nighttime feedings as well. They may travel to live with a family for several weeks to provide this care. Postpartum doulas go beyond baby nurse care, because they care for the entire family and help establish their routine when the newborn(s) transitions home. Postpartum doulas don’t typically live with a family while services are provided, but in certain circumstances they may. Some postpartum doulas provide additional services (babysitting, nanny care, baby nurse care, etc.) that the contract would spell specifically.
How is scheduling done for postpartum services?
Individual schedules vary, but each postpartum doula provides a few hours
during a day to assist a family. Sometimes multiple families are assisted
in one day, as schedules permit. Some contracts have a minimum number of hours per day to schedule, and some families want care several days per week. At the beginning when the baby first arrives, the number of hours per day and number of days per week may be larger. As the mother feels better and organizes her new routine, the amount of time during the day and number of days per week may decrease. This “weaning process” may go on for a few days, or even a few weeks. Each postpartum doula will detail scheduling requirements with families as interviewed.
It is typically a bittersweet time of wrapping up postpartum services with
families. It is often sad to not see the family or postpartum doula on a regular basis. It is also a happy time, to know the services are stopping because the need is no longer necessary. The greatest gift to a postpartum doula is the privilege of assisting a family during
such a special time; while it is apparent her assistance has been useful
enough to not require the help as before.