The period after childbirth can sometimes be more strenuous on new parents than the labor itself. That’s precisely when the postpartum doula comes into play. Once the obstetrician, maternity nurses, and midwives exit, the postpartum doula steps in, ready to assist in a myriad of tasks that will help mom and dad adjust to their new home life with a child.
Whether the new mom needs assistance in learning how to hold or nurse her baby, help cleaning up the house or entertaining an older sibling, meal preparation, massage, or a trained ear and facilitation of an emotional download of sorts, postpartum doulas are skilled at helping the new mom adjust to those early days and weeks. Postpartum doulas are especially helpful when mom is experiencing any sort of postpartum depression or anxiety. And they, perhaps above all, see the profound change that women go through as new parents — their bodies recovering, their mind building knowledge as they get to know their child, and their hearts growing.
Based in Joshua Tree, California, Jenn Crawford is a certified lactation consultant, postpartum doula, and certified newborn care specialist. Working with the company Desert Birth & Wellness, she assists mothers regularly with adjusting to life with a newborn in the house.
"We really don't know until we go into the home — or sometimes we’ll even start postpartum care in the hospital — if they had an unplanned Caesarean or if they just need extra help with breastfeeding. We’ve definitely gone into the hospital and stayed the night so that that way, the partner or dad can go home with the other children.
I never ask about the baby first. I always ask about mom because everyone’s asking about the baby.
"I’ve had people expect us to do all baby care from day one and usually I explain the difference between a newborn baby specialist and a postpartum doula and how we are happy to help with infant care but that’s typically not our role. We want the parents to be comfortable. We definitely want to help take care of babies so mom and dad can get some rest, but we don’t typically take over all baby care.
"As soon as I walk into someone’s home, I go in and wash my hands. I always ask mom how she’s feeling and how she’s doing. I never ask about the baby first. I always ask about mom because everyone’s asking about the baby. I typically just do a night shift and I have other girls who do daytime. So I come in, I ask how the day went, I ask how mom’s feeling, I ask if there’s anything she needs help with. So, I’m comfortable doing laundry, dishes, and small household tasks if it makes her life easier at that point. We never do any deep cleaning, but we’ll definitely do some household chores.
"My main focus is mom’s mental health because it’s often forgotten about. A lot of open-ended questions, a lot of active listening, things like that. If there are any breastfeeding problems, we’ll go over that. If there are any issues, we’ll go over that. But in reality, it’s a lot of listening. I never want to take over the care of baby. I want to help show them how to soothe that baby without taking it over.
We see a lot of OCD, we see a lot of anxiety, we see a lot of depression, and it can definitely make the work environment very uncomfortable.
"I would say [we work with them] for the first two months. We’ve definitely had families that go six to even 12 months. But I would say the average is two months. Sometimes they’re just not ready for a nanny and are just more comfortable with us. My goal is for us to be weaned down and I will help them search for a nanny when the time comes.
"[It’s challenging] when there is a postpartum mood disorder and a family doesn't seem to recognize it. I can bring it up but I can’t diagnose it. I cant require them to get help and that becomes a big challenge. If you've ever worked with someone who has a [struggle with] mental health, you would know how difficult it is. We see a lot of OCD, we see a lot of anxiety, we see a lot of depression, and it can definitely make the work environment very uncomfortable.
"I think the most rewarding [part of being a postpartum doula] is when I get updates, birthday cards, et cetera. Watching those babies grow up and being rehired when they have more is amazing."
This interview has been edited for clarity.
You’ll never forget the birth of your child, but what does everyone else who was there remember? Find out with more from Romper’s look at birth, Stork’s Eye View.