By Stephanie Haskins
While many people have become familiar with the role of a birth doula, they may not be aware of how a postpartum doula can assist in easing the transition to life with a new baby. Whether you're arriving home from the hospital or settling in after a home birth, you and your partner find yourselves alone with your baby. You may be tired from the birth. You may be recovering from a Cesarean or a particularly difficult delivery. You may have other children wanting your attention. However elated you are with this new little person in your lives, having a baby can be overwhelming.
In our culture of rugged individualism, we sometimes think we must shoulder our responsibilities on our own with little or no support from the outside. At no time is this expectation more glaring than during the postpartum period, when families begin the long process of birth recovery and learning how to care for a new infant on their own.
Statistics published by the Illinois Department of Public Health (http://www.idph.state.il.us/about/womenshealth/factsheets/pdpress.htm) in 2012 report that approximately 50 percent of new mothers experience mild depression; 10 to 20 percent experience postpartum depression, and 1 in 500 to 1000 suffer from postpartum psychosis. With new mothers left to fend for themselves, often spending hours alone with a new baby and possibly other children, little wonder that these numbers are so high. In other areas of the world, new mothers are cared for by their families and extended communities for 30 to 60 days postpartum. Typical in the United States is for a few meals to be delivered.
Hiring a postpartum doula can bridge the gap in care for new mothers. Trained in infant growth and development, infant feeding (breast and bottle), parent-infant bonding, and postpartum maternal recovery, she provides the new family with education, household assistance, referrals to a variety of local resources, including cloth-diapering services, lactation consultants, and new moms groups, and other forms of support. The postpartum doula is a quiet presence who supports the decisions parents make as they get acquainted with their baby and work on understanding his or her cues and personality. Both directly and indirectly, she validates the parents' intuitive ability to care for their baby. Just as the birth doula works to protect and maintain an energy of peace and calm during birth, the postpartum doula continues that work by bringing a spirit of trust, reverence, and calm to the home. She understands the vulnerability and tenderness surrounding the first few weeks postpartum. Emotions are full and expectations are high. Many first-time families have little or no experience with newborns and are understandably overwhelmed initially with the responsibility of caring for one full time. First-time parents are sometimes so focused on the rite of passage that is birth, that it's nearly impossible for them to see what lies beyond.
Having a postpartum doula in your home who is sensitive to all of these issues can be a tremendous help.
A postpartum doula can reassure you if you think something is wrong and offer a referral to a specialist if necessary. She can listen to you talk about your birth whether it was a mountaintop experience that went according to plan or an unplanned Cesarean that you still need to process. She understands how important it is for you to just talk and be listened to with no judgment.
A postpartum doula can offer support in breastfeeding, such as finding positions that work well for you, establishing a healthy latch, or answering questions about feeding cues and feeding frequency. A postpartum doula can help you with baby-friendly bottle-feeding suggestions, whether you're supplementing with bottles or using them exclusively. A postpartum doula can provide you with current, evidence-based information on safe baby sleep, breastfeeding, infant care, and postpartum recovery. She can help you figure out how to put on that baby-wearing device someone gave you. She can cook you healthy meals and snacks, help with light housekeeping, or tend the baby while you take a shower or a nap or go for a walk. You might want her to accompany you the first few times you leave the home with your baby to help you figure out how to grocery shop with an infant who needs to feed every 20 minutes. She might even simply read a book or play a game with your children while you nurse your baby or take some precious time to yourself.
The postpartum doula's role is a combination of personal sensitivity, practical household help, and professional training in maternal and infant health. The doula's purpose is to attend to the matters of new mothers so that new mothers can attend to their babies.
Stephanie Haskins is a trained birth and postpartum doula and lactation educator practicing in the Ithaca area. To learn more about her services, please visit motherwitdoula.net. Stephanie will give a free class called "The Postpartum Doula" on Wednesday, June 5 at 7 pm at GreenStar's West-End Store. See page 6 for more information. To register, sign up at GreenStar's Customer Service Desk or call 607.273.9392.
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