Picture this — you’ve just given birth and you are snuggling up in your bed with your newborn, while a trusted someone is dishing up the food that she arranged to be dropped off for you by your community, right before she helps set up a changing area for your newborn, and then runs to the store for more baby wipes and q-tips. She’s there to guide you when you are figuring out how you and your baby will nurse. She’s there to ensure you and your partner have all the support and information you need. She’s there to help your family know how best to assist you. She’s there to make sure you know what resources you have available to you and how to contact them.
She’s not your best friend. Even better, she’s a Postpartum Doula, and it’s her job to help you do the most important work of your life — care for your newborn. Never heard of a Postpartum Doula? You soon will, as this ultramodern-ancient way of helping new parents is catching on everywhere. And if you, or someone you know, is having a baby any time soon, chances are you can find a Postpartum Doula in your area, who is ready and able to help you in ways your friends and family wouldn’t dream, dare, or even know how. I strongly advocate bringing in a caring professional of this variety for any new family, or any parents looking to get a little extra help providing just the right environment for their newborn.
For a bit more information, check out this interview I conducted with Certified Postpartum Doula, Nina Alviar.
*What does a Postpartum Doula do? Well, it varies a little, I haven’t done the same thing for a family twice, but for me there are 3 basic components.
- Education – Among other topics, I teach basic infant care, breastfeeding, best sleeping arrangements for newborns, and self-care for the parents (physical changes for the mother and emotional changes occurring for both parents.) And, although I educate about best practices, my job is not to get them to parent the way I do or think they should. I offer information, and I envelop them in support so that they can discover what works for them.
- Supporting Family – I help with light household tasks to allow parents to spend time with Baby. I may help set up nursing stations and changing stations, do laundry, dishes, run errands, or help organize the house. I spend time with the newborn so that parents can shower, nap, play with a sibling, or take a walk alone around the neighborhood. I can accompany the family to appointments, including pediatrician, family therapy or counseling, etc. I also help to build connection between both parents and their newborn, offer support with sibling adjustment, assist grandparents in connecting and helping appropriately, and offer assistance and guidance to family friends who want to lend a hand or provide food.
- Referrals – I help families find community and professional support like nannies, therapists, cleaners, services, community groups, and parenting educators.
Although I can be called to assist anytime, it’s easiest if we get started with a prenatal meeting. That way we can discuss perceived needs, screen for possible challenges, and I can help the family think through some of the basics (like interviewing pediatricians) to make the first few weeks go more smoothly.
*What don’t you do? Deep cleaning; dog-walking; and although I do help with sibling adjustment, and I love to play with older siblings and listen to them with full attention, I don’t babysit the child alone in the house while the rest of the family leaves.
*What inspires you about this work? And/or why do you do it? I do it because it’s what I wish I had when I was a new mom. And supporting a new family – getting my self out of the way and being of service – is a wonderful way to be in the world. I love watching a family become confident and feel like they know what they’re doing – to help them reach the point where they say, “We don’t need you anymore…”
*How did you get started? When my first son was born, even with family and friends around, we didn’t have the support we needed. I felt the need to have a professional person to tell us everything was OK, and that we were doing well, and to give us information to help us.
I had education and training in Child Development, and Early Childhood Education, already, and had worked for the Missoula Community School for 5 years. Then I found DONA, the most highly recognized doula organization in the world, and I connected with them for training, and am also getting my certification though them.
*What are your current aspirations with this work? (Chuckling) To have people not say, “A What?” when I tell them I’m a Postpartum Doula… To educate other professionals about Postpartum Doulas, and the benefits we offer to new families. To have an agency of Postpartum Doulas, and eventually link with creating a daycare.
*Are there others out there? An association? Schools? DONA.org has links to other doulas, as well as training and certification services. In Missoula, you can find other doulas through The Lotus Project http://www.thelotusprojectmt.org/missouladoulas.html.