Can a Postpartum Doula Help?
Corey Engmann never considered hiring a postpartum doula until she learned she was expecting twins. Feeling overwhelmed and worried about how she would handle twin babies, along with the pressing needs of her 2-year-old, she turned to Teresa Marshall, a certified birth and postpartum doula, to help her after her twins arrived.
Marshall spent five nights a week for four months at Engmann’s home after the birth of the twins, providing support, encouragement and help. Her assistance enabled Engmann to get the sleep she needed to recover from a physically demanding pregnancy.
“I can easily say that hiring Teresa was the best thing I have ever done for myself and our family,” Engmann says. “During the day I could be present, loving and enjoying all three of my children. It wasn’t the endless cycle of fatigue and frustration as it sometimes was during the first few months with my first child.”
What is a postpartum doula?
The first six weeks after a newborn arrives can be a mixture of happiness and anxiety as moms settle into a new routine. Many of today’s new mothers lack the support network that generations of mothers have relied on. Close family and friends are far-flung and partners return to work within days. A postpartum doula can provide experience and valuable support that a new mother may be missing.
“A lot of women are waiting to have children until they are much older. Their parents are older or live in other parts of the country,” says Teresa Marshall, who in addition to her work as a birth and postpartum doula, is a facilitator for a pregnancy and postpartum depression and anxiety support group. “With postpartum depression a risk, it’s so important for women not to be isolated.”
The support of a postpartum doula can be especially helpful to mothers who:
- Have a history of depression or postpartum depression.
- Don’t have close friends and family nearby to rely on.
- Are expecting multiples.
- Have other little ones demanding her attention.
“I am convinced that Teresa saved my life. As most moms have felt at one time or another, I was often wondering and questioning if what I was doing was the right thing for my children — and with twins, the responsibility is so unbelievably overwhelming,” Engmann says.
Mothering the mother
A mom who spends hours alone with her baby can easily spiral into emotional and physical exhaustion, which can put her at greater risk for postpartum anxiety or depression. During this challenging transition period — often called the fourth trimester, a postpartum doula can provide calm reassurance and support to a new mama and her family.
“When moms feel supported at home and they are getting what they need, the rates of postpartum depression are reduced,” says Kate Kripke, an expert in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and contributing writer for PostPartumProgress.com. “There is a lot to be said about the role the postpartum doula plays in simply mothering the mother after she gives birth that can be incredibly preventative for lots of women.”
In addition to helping to care for the baby, postpartum doulas often help with light housework, errands, cooking, crowd control and caring for siblings. Many are also trained to recognize the signs of postpartum depression and provide resources to the moms they support.
“When doulas are educated in what to look for, they’re one of the first people to pick up on and identify when something is going on with the mom,” Kripke says.
What is postpartum depression?
According to PostPartum Support International, one in eight women suffers from postpartum depression. Symptoms include insomnia, severe mood swings, a lack of joy, loss of appetite, overwhelming fatigue, withdrawal from family and friends, and thoughts of suicide. (Additional symptoms can be found at MayoClinic.org). Postpartum depression can also interfere with healthy bonding between a mom and her newborn.
“When a baby is on the inside, a woman takes amazing care of herself. And then the baby is born, and it becomes all about the baby. As soon as that mom starts to struggle and suffer, she will no longer have what is going to be required to care for her baby the way she wants to. Not because she isn’t a good mom or doesn’t love her child, but simply because she’s human,” Kripke says. “I find that the women who are enjoying motherhood the most and who feel the healthiest are the ones who are receiving help.”
For more information about postpartum doulas and to find one in your area, go to dona.org.
Freelance journalist Christa Melnyk Hines and her husband are the parents of two active boys and a pair of lazy dogs. Christa is the author of "Confidently Connected: A Mom's Guide to a Satisfying Social Life."
How you can help
Having a sense of community is vital to a new mom’s health and well-being. Here are ways you can help a new mom during those first few weeks home (always text or call ahead first):
- Coordinate an online care train where friends and family can sign up for time slots to deliver meals, take care of siblings, clean house or rock the baby. (Check out mealtrain.com.)
- Offer to rock the baby for a couple of hours to give mom a chance to take a shower or a nap.
- Deliver coffee and muffins.
- Drop off a fully prepared meal.
- Babysit any older children for an afternoon.
- Offer to walk her dog, clean house or run an errand.
- Give her a gift card to her favorite take-out restaurant.