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Women's health

What is a Postpartum Doula?

We caught up with Cassandra Lyons Laurin, Family Support & Postpartum Doula to get the lowdown on what these doulas do, the services they provide and why they're your secret weapon in the battle against postpartum depression.

By Courtney Leiva
What is a Postpartum Doula?

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From helping you navigate post-baby hormones to helping your firstborn embrace their new role as the ultimate big sibling, postpartum doulas can be extremely helpful in navigating the beautiful chaos of new parenthood. But are they necessary for today's parents or just a fancy add-on that not everyone needs?

We caught up with Cassandra Lyons Laurin, Family Support & Postpartum Doula, Ontario Certified Teacher, and Market Director at The Mom Market Hamilton, to get the lowdown on what these doulas do, the services they provide and why they're your secret weapon in the battle against postpartum depression.

What is a postpartum doula?

Since postpartum is a mentally and physically changing time, it's not surprising that postpartum doulas have become an increasingly popular resource for new parents. But if you're wondering what a postpartum doula does and how your family could benefit from having one in the house, Lyons says they are trained professional who provides physical support, emotional support, and informational support to parents during the postpartum period, which is also called the fourth trimester.

"A postpartum doula can assist families in adjusting to the challenges and changes that come with newborn care," she tells Today's Parent. "They can offer support for breastfeeding/chestfeeding, addressing common challenges and offering guidance, and connect parents with community resources such as support groups, lactation consultants, and other postpartum services."

Doulas can also assist families with light housework, including light cleaning, meal preparation, and laundry. However, Lyons stresses the importance of remembering that doulas are not house cleaners or babysitters who can take over full-time childcare responsibilities. " While they can offer guidance on infant care and provide support while parents rest or take a break, doulas are not left with children in the home and cannot drive parents or baby anywhere (can be a passenger though)," she says.

baby lying on a bed with someone holding its feet iStock

What is the difference between a birth doula and a postpartum doula?

Both a birth doula and a postpartum doula hold the title of doula, but each has distinct roles. According to a 2023 article published by the Harvard Medical School, birth doulas only provide support during pregnancy and labor and can recommend comfortable birthing positions and emotional encouragement. On the flip side, postpartum doulas step in after the baby is born, aiding new mothers in their recovery from childbirth, providing advice and assistance with breastfeeding, and helping family members adjust to the new baby at home.

However, it is essential to recognize that a postpartum doula should not be confused with a baby nurse. "Unlike a baby nurse, a postpartum doula is not authorized to provide medical care or advice, as it is not a regulated profession and lacks specific credentials," Lyons explains.

How long should you use a postpartum doula?

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There isn't a fixed time for how long a family should have a postpartum doula, but it depends on the new parents' needs and preferences. According to Lyons, "Some families may opt for postpartum doula services for a few weeks to several months, considering factors such as the family's support network and the overall well-being of the parents and baby."

However, costs and the length of time a doula supports you (which is typically the first four months after birth), can also influence the duration of doula services, so it's important to consider these factors before seeking a doula in your area.

Is a postpartum doula worth it?

Lyons recommends that new parents who require assistance and guidance, particularly if they lack nearby family or friends, consider hiring a postpartum doula. Before searching for one online, she advises couples to evaluate their budget (postpartum doula costs can vary), the support available from friends and family, and their comfort with having a doula in their private space. "This can help them make an informed decision about whether to hire a postpartum doula," she says.

However, if you're still on the fence, research shows that doulas can offer benefits to many families. According to evidence-based information published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, mothers who used doulas had lower rates of postpartum depression or anxiety.

baby lying on a bed with someone reaching over to comfort him iStock

FAQs

What service/tasks do postpartum doulas not provide?

While postpartum doulas are a great source of support after giving birth, Lyons notes that there are specific services or tasks they don't provide. “Postpartum doulas are not trained to conduct medical procedures or provide medical advice," she says. "Doulas also do not perform medical assessments, administer medications, or offer medical treatments."

How do postpartum doulas support families with multiples?

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Lyons suggests that new parents of twins or triplets could benefit from the support of a postpartum doula. "The doula could help the families establish feeding schedules, sleep routines, and organizing baby supplies, thereby easing the daily care of the multiples," she explains. "Additionally, doulas can aid in the adjustment of multiple babies into the family dynamic, including assisting older siblings in adapting to the presence of more than one baby in the house."

Are postpartum doulas certified?

Yes, postpartum doulas have the option to get certified through various organizations. For example, they can pursue certification through DONA International, the International Doula Institute, and the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA).

To become a certified postpartum doula in Canada, Lyons says that individuals can pursue the process over two years, with the option of attending in-class or online training. "This path involves completing written exams, education unit training, and certification in First Aid/CPR Level C, " she explains. "Additionally, practical support must be provided to three families with supported evaluations, along with completing required reading projects and assignments with a report."

How does a postpartum doula support breastfeeding?

Doulas play a vital role in supporting successful breastfeeding by providing various services. According to Lyons, they can also educate families about the benefits of breastfeeding/chestfeeding, proper latch techniques, and comfortable nursing positions. "Doulas can help mothers achieve the best possible latch and ensure efficient milk transfer," she tells Today's Parent.

If any difficulties arise (including nipple discomfort or worries about milk supply), Lyons explains that the doula will help address the issues and propose remedies, advising further assistance from lactation consultants or healthcare providers as needed.

Can you find a postpartum doula online?

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Finding a postpartum doula online is easy, thanks to resources such as Postpartum Support International (PSI), DONA International, Mother's Care Doula Services, Inc., and DoulaMatch. These platforms offer directories of certified birth and postpartum doulas, making it easier for parents to find the right match. However, it's crucial to do your homework on doulas and give priority to those with proper training, certification, and positive client feedback. "This approach can help you find the most suitable doula for your needs," says Lyons.

Experts: 

  • Cassandra Lyons Laurin,Family Support & Postpartum Doula, Ontario Certified Teacher, and Market Director at The Mom Market Hamilton

This article was originally published on Jan 18, 2024

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