Why I chose a postpartum doula over a birth doula, and how to choose the right fit for you
One of the greatest gifts I gave myself when I had my baby was being cared for by a postpartum doula.
Much to my surprise, one of the most common questions I get asked about my pregnancy/postpartum experience is about this choice. Specifically, what a postpartum doula does or why I needed one.
So, I figured I would devote a post to this topic. Specifically, why I chose to have a postpartum doula and why I preferred this option over a birth doula.
Before I go any further, here’s the difference between the two (for those who aren’t as familiar with this stuff):
A doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical, and educational support to a mother who is expecting and is experiencing labor. The doula's purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable, and empowering birthing experience.
A postpartum doula provides information on and assistance with things such as infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother–baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care. A postpartum doula is there to help the mother recover and new family thrive in those first days and weeks after bringing home a new baby.
Now, let me start by saying that nothing can really prepare you for child birth or becoming a mother for the first time. So, at best, I could only guess what my needs would be during labor and thereafter.
I read all the books, articles and blogs and picked as many brains as I could to try to gain a better understanding of what I might expect.
I read about lactation consultants, which thankfully, I’d have access to through my health plan. But I also read a lot and watched videos about breastfeeding, latching, nipple care, etc. to help prepare me for something that I anticipated being more difficult than a lot of people let on. For anyone who plans to nurse, and may not have access to a lactation consultant, I highly recommend doing this - it helped me a lot.
I also heard great things about night nurses - an expert in childcare who will come to work at night, to feed, change and soothe your baby to so that the Mother can get some much-needed rest. But, because I have a strange and unhealthy ability to operate on very little sleep, I decided that this wouldn’t be a resource that I’d splurge on.
The two services I was most interested in were those offered by doulas and postpartum doulas.
Depending on where you live, the services they provide and the package you ultimately choose, doulas and postpartum doulas can cost as much as several thousands dollars each.
I live in Los Angeles, so the costs associated with this kind of care definitely run on the higher side. Based on my resources and what I was willing to spend, I decided that I’d pick one or the other.
To make the decision, the first thing I did was consider my specific needs and circumstances as well as any concerns that I had. It didn’t really matter to me what anyone else had or did. In fact, most people I knew had used a birth doula and hadn’t even heard of a postpartum doula.
When it came to laboring, the plan was that it would be just me and my husband Noam in the delivery room. In addition to this, I had a (very) soft goal to have a natural birth - for which a birth doula would be ideal.
From what I’ve read and others have shared about their experiences with a birth doula, she will be there with you throughout your labor, to advocate your preferences to the hospital staff and coach you through contractions and other decisions that might need to be made.
While all of this sounded well and good, it ultimately just didn’t appeal to me - again based on my needs and unique circumstances.
For starters, I am someone who relies heavily on their own instincts and I don’t like being told what I need or what to do (I am not saying this is always right or good, just that I definitely know myself). And in addition to this, I’m not shy about advocating for myself when I need to.
I didn’t feel that having an extra person in the delivery room to do this (and other stuff) was really a necessity for me.
If there were ever a scenario where I was in too much pain to communicate, or unconscious, I figured there would be a birth plan that the hospital staff could reference and my husband, who could confidently speak on my behalf.
Wile a natural birth was a ‘soft goal’ of mine, at the time same, I wasn’t totally convinced that this is what I wanted, no matter what. The idea that there would be someone there to help me breathe through contractions and guide me through a natural birth interested me, sure. But if at any point I wanted an epidural, in the state I anticipated being in, I didn’t want to be convinced or reminded or coached to continue with the plan to have a natural birth (if you read my birth story, then you know I did wind up getting an epidural).
I also considered what would happen if I needed a C-section. What exactly would this person’s role be if this were the case? And even if there was some part that a birth doula plays here, will I regret having spent all that money if things played out this way?
But most of all, I just wasn’t that worried about labor. I felt that whatever was going to happen, will happen and that would be that. I’d prepare as much as I could, including for the unexpected.
Postpartum life, on the other hand, made me nervous. Real nervous.
Before learning that I was pregnant at 32 years old, I spent several years watching those around me become pregnant and have kids. This is how I came to know that caring for newborns is just as difficult as it is wonderful.
I am someone who loves a challenge, but the idea of no sleep, hormonal imbalances, new and steep learning curves, all while trying to heal from the birth experience, frightened me.
In many societies and cultures new mothers are often cared for by the women in their family in some way during the fourth trimester - helping you look after the baby, offering help around the house, and so on.
But, living in Los Angeles, with all of our family on the other side of the continent, meant that my husband and I are, technically, on our own.
Yes, we have wonderful and supportive families, who would all travel to be in LA with us once our baby was born and for two weeks after. But beyond that, it would be just the two of us. And our newborn. With no maternity or paternity leave.
All that I had witnessed and read about the difficulties surrounding the postpartum experience was enough to tell me that I was going to need some sort of help as I navigate my way through the hours, days and weeks after childbirth.
Unfortunately, our culture is one that champions mothers who are up and about quickly after birth. And, just like so many new mothers before me, I knew that I would place a certain pressure on myself to bounce back and resume life as usual soon after the birth of my son.
When I thought about what this period of time would be like, I knew that I needed someone who could help take care of me, so I could regain my physical, mental and emotional strength to take care of everything and everyone else.
This way of thinking is neither right or wrong. It is just how I think; it is how I reason with things.
When I first met my postpartum doula, she encouraged me to think about the time that followed childbirth as a period of rest and restoration.
She talked about a period of confinement, a ‘golden month’, which is a period of about 40 days, where the new mother rests in bed, has healing foods prepared for her, so that all she must focus on is recovery and connecting with her newborn. She explained that she was there to provide multifaceted support.
By the time I was finished speaking with her, she had turned this experience that I feared into one that sounded heavenly. Apart from the 40 day bed rest, I was all in.
Before my baby was born, she helped me set intentions for this period of time. What I wanted it to look like, to feel like. And she explained that with each session we had together, she would help facilitate these ideas and intentions.
She would arrive with fresh produce, warming herbs and spices, and prepare Ayurvedic meals and teas to heal and restore my body. She would share her favorite recipes to boost lactation. And she would ensure my fridge and pantry was stored with these essentials.
She would do light work around the house, while we spoke about anything and everything related to transitioning into new motherhood.
She helped me relax with 60 minute abhyana massages and prepared herbs to include in my sitz bath.
She would observe my latch while I nursed. And would support my back with pillows to help me relax and enjoy it more.
She was love and light personified, in a time that I feared would be dark and difficult. And on our last day together, I joked that I couldn’t wait for baby number two, just so I could have this time with her again.
I wrote this article because I was amazed at how few people know about their option to have a postpartum doula, or if they do know about it, wonders if it is worth it.
I’m not interested in telling anyone what to do, but I will say it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
But before you take the leap yourself, I encourage you to do your homework because not all postpartum doulas are the same. I spoke with a few different women before deciding who I would ultimately work with.
Also, please remember that my needs are not your needs.
If I have learned anything since becoming pregnant and a new mother, it is that there are a lot of opinions out there and a lot of people who are not shy about telling you what you should and shouldn’t do for yourself or your baby.
The journey of finding and working with my postpartum doula was the result of constantly reminding myself to tune out the noise and look inward.
You can see this post as a story about my wonderful experience with my postpartum doula and how it paved the way for a more enjoyable fourth trimester. But in many ways, it is also about how rewarding it can be when you look inward, acknowledge your fears, understand your needs, listen to your gut and do what works best for you.