We hired a doula during my third pregnancy so my husband could step back from being my labour coach and enjoy the birth. As part of her service, the doula we chose included three postpartum visits.
Because I had been through the newborn stage twice before, I didn’t think we would need the visits, but she suggested we take advantage of her help after the birth. With no family living close by, I’m so glad we did. She provided breastfeeding support, cared for my other children while I got some much-needed sleep, and shared baby-care tips when our newborn daughter showed signs of reflux.
Postpartum doulas are trained and experienced professionals who offer emotional and practical support to new parents. Services may include light housekeeping, childcare for older siblings, feeding assistance, infant care and, in some cases, physical care for mothers recovering from delivery.
“The primary role of a postpartum doula is to mother the mother,” says Alicia Moffat, a certified doula who has cared for families in the Greater Toronto Area for more than five years. “In our society, we’ve lost the practice of having groups of women who support new mothers and care for them after birth,” notes Moffat. This emotional support can help build confidence, especially with new parents. “That’s why doulas can make such a difference for a woman and her family when they bring their baby home.”
As soon as I interviewed the doula we used, I knew she was a good fit. We shared similar parenting philosophies and she understood that bonding time with my newborn was important to me—making her role one of support and advice.
Parents will typically interview and hire a doula prior to the birth of their baby (especially if they are also using a doula for the birth itself). Online sites, such as findadoula.com and dona.org can help you find a good fit, and recommendations from health care providers and other parents can also be helpful.
It’s a good idea to know what kind of support you are looking for when choosing a doula, as there are some who specialize in specific areas, like breastfeeding or overnight care. When Vancouver mom, Carla Young, was pregnant with her daughter, she knew she’d be relying on the doula she hired to help coach her through the anxiety she was feeling about breastfeeding. “Being able to breastfeed was something that was really important to me,” says Young, who wanted to avoid getting conflicting advice from different sources. “She gave me confidence both before and after the birth that I could breastfeed successfully, and when it got hard, I didn’t give up because of her.”
Another way a postpartum doula can be invaluable is by helping the partner to support the new mother. Tricia McConnell, a mother of two from London, Ont., remembers struggling to feed her screaming newborn and calling her doula who then coached McConnell’s husband over the phone so he could help. “She was so great at calming us down and talking us through it,” says McConnell. With the arrival of her second baby, McConnell and her husband didn’t hesitate to consult a doula to provide support for their family.
The length of time a postpartum doula works with a family depends on the particular needs of the family. Those seeking daytime support to help transition through the newborn period might have a doula who makes up to five visits. Some families hire an overnight doula to help navigate the demands of new sleep routines (or a lack of sleep). In overnight situations, a doula often stays on for a longer period of time and visits one or two nights per week, says Moffat.
Doulas charge based on what kind of care your family needs, but fees range between $30 and $60 an hour, or are presented in a flat-rate package. Some doulas provide a sliding scale for families who can’t afford full fees, and newly certified doulas or doulas in training may provide free support in order to gain experience. Additionally, some doula associations may offer volunteer doulas for those who don’t have the ability to pay. Ask your local hospital, community worker or someone in the doula community for more information.
This article was originally published online in January 2017.