You’ve been through nine long months of pregnancy and — finally — your baby is here. But the need for support doesn’t stop at that moment (hi, fourth trimester). That’s where a postpartum doula can come in. We sat down with Karla Pippa, a doula and co-founder of NYC Birth Village, to talk about what exactly postpartum doulas do, and help you decide if one is right for you.
What is a postpartum doula?
A postpartum doula is a non-medical professional who provides help to families after the baby arrives. These doulas typically provide support for the first six to eight weeks (and sometimes more) after birth. They may visit a few times per week during the first few weeks, then transition down to once a week as the parents get more comfortable, says Pippa. But you and your doula can decide what schedule and length of time works best for you and your budget.
Worth noting that doulas aren’t just for biological, straight, or partnered parents, says Pippa. “We've had all sorts of different types of families [hire postpartum doulas]. We've had folks that have adopted, single parents as well, families, [and] LGBTQ families.”
What does a postpartum doula do, exactly?
Postpartum doulas provide a wide spectrum of support, from infant care, supporting the parents, to helping around the house. Pippa notes that caring for mom is something that sets doulas apart from other forms of support. “[Culturally] we are kind of focused on the baby itself and forget that the mom has gone through this very transformational and physical experience. I wish our culture were a little bit [more] revolved around the experience that the birthing person is going through.”
Postpartum doula visits are broken up into daytime visits (usually three hours) and overnight visits (usually 10 hours), says Pippa. When it comes to infant care, they may help with…
Feeding support, including breastfeeding and pumping. This is a main focus in the first few weeks after birth, says Pippa.
Sleep strategies. Especially during night visits with your postpartum doula, when they’ll focus on helping get you and the baby as much rest as possible.
Soothing techniques. Particularly after the first few weeks of support, says Pippa. “That's where the little one starts to become a little bit more fussy … and that's where families start to be running on fumes,” says Pippa.
Providing general wisdom and experience with infant care. They’ve done all of this before, so they can assure you that what you’re going through is normal.
When it comes to the mom and baby’s support system, they may help with…
Taking care of your physical recovery after birth. Your doula can prepare padsicles, sitz baths, and nipple soaks — and generally make sure you are also a priority, says Pippa.
Advocating for you at doctor’s appointments. This is especially important for Black women, who are more likely to be dismissed in the doctor’s office.
Keeping an eye out for mental health concerns. Like a postpartum mood disorder, says Pippa. Plus, they can give you perspective that what you’re going through is normal. In the case of a traumatic birth, they can validate and help you navigate the experience.
How much does a postpartum doula cost?
Depends on where you live. Rates can reportedly run from $25 to $35 per hour in smaller cities, and $35 to $65 per hour in larger cities. In most cases, insurance companies don’t cover the costs, although Medicaid has expanded its coverage to include doulas in several states. You also may be able to use an HSA or FSA account to cover or offset the costs, depending on your plan.
Pippa acknowledges that the price tag is a barrier for many families. That said, there are some organizations who offer sliding scales or low-cost doula services, like Health Connect One, which connects community-based doulas with families across the country. These are crucial for communities of color, especially Black women, who face higher maternal mortality rates than white women.
How do I know if a postpartum doula is right for me?
Hiring a doula is a very personal decision. So there are a few things to consider, like the cost. Also, your experience with birth. While a postpartum doula can help whether it’s your first or third baby, they may be especially helpful if you’re a first-time mom or you’re expecting multiples.
Another thing to consider: Your support system. If you’re birthing a baby alone, it may help to hire a doula. Even if you have a village, Pippa says it could still be helpful to hire one. “[Friends and family] come often with their own judgments from their own particular, almost sometimes singular experiences. Whereas a doula comes with a comprehensive set of background of not only training, but what they've seen working with a variety of families.”
How do I choose the right doula?
Pippa recommends asking a potential postpartum doula these questions to help you find the right fit for you and your family.
Above all, Pippa notes that you want someone who comes with experience, an open mind, and who will support your and your baby’s needs.
There’s so much new moms are expected to know when they bring home their baby. And trying to learn on the job while recovering from birth is a big ask. While it can be expensive, hiring can help make sure you and your baby are taken care of.
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