How long should you use a postpartum doula

How long should you use a postpartum doula?

There are so many benefits to working with a postpartum doula. If you’re having a new baby, you might wonder what it’s like to work with a postpartum doula. How long should you use a postpartum doula? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer! If you’re wondering how long you should work with a postpartum doula, this post is for you. 

What is the definition of postpartum?

Postpartum simply means “after birth”. If your baby was born yesterday, you’re one day postpartum. If your big kid is celebrating their 5th birthday, you’re 5 years postpartum! 

There’s no solid timeline to what “postpartum” means. But many medical sources consider the postpartum period to last only 6 weeks. This is the time when the uterus is expected to be back at its pre-pregnancy size and location.

While many people who’ve given birth feel relatively recovered by 6 weeks, plenty more definitely do not feel 100% – and that’s normal! The truth is, some new moms are still experiencing postpartum bleeding at 6-8+ weeks. It seems unfair to consider postpartum to be over at six weeks when the body is still clearly healing. Plus, there’s a whole lot more to postpartum recovery than what the uterus is up to.

Nowadays, many people use a new term for the postpartum period – “the fourth trimester.” After all the body has gone through and is still going through after birth, it feels more accurate to think of this final season of the childbearing year to last about 12 weeks, like the other trimesters. 

What does a postpartum doula do?

Postpartum doulas help new parents have an easier transition to life with a new baby. Most of all, postpartum doulas help teach parents to care for their babies and themselves after birth. 

The specific tasks and ways a postpartum doula helps a family depends on what each unique family needs. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of postpartum doula tasks and roles:

Postpartum Doula overnight:

  • Supporting the newborn while parents rest
  • Breastfeeding support
  • Newborn care [either shared or independently]
  • Some doulas will do light housework on overnight shifts [bottles, laundry]

Postpartum Doula daytime:

  • Parent education of newborn care and soothing
  • Breastfeeding and bottle feeding support
  • Light housework i.e. washing bottles, tidying the nursery, laundry
  • Newborn care reprieve while parents rest
  • Meal prep i.e. making sandwiches, cutting up fruit
  • Referrals to additional support i.e. counseling for PPMDs or pelvic floor therapy
  • Maintaining a daily log of infant’s feeding times and oz consumed, diaper changes, etc.

In essence, postpartum doulas help new families by offering advice, hands-on care, and reprieve. Meaning more time and energy for family bonding, relaxation and everything else! 

How long should you work with a postpartum doula?

Working with a postpartum doula is wonderful for the whole family. But how long should you use a postpartum doula? 

How long you’ll need a postpartum doula depends on a lot of factors. Some are predictable (like when you or your partner has to return to work), and others are not (like how your labor and delivery goes). In general, though, a 2-4 month period is standard for postpartum doula care. Some parents use a postpartum doula for less, and others for longer – it’s all about what your unique family needs. It also depends if you are hiring a postpartum doula for nights, or for days, or for both!

Weeks 0-4 with a postpartum doula

The first month with a postpartum doula is really just getting you through the trenches. She’s there to help you avoid sleep deprivation and find your footing as a new parent. The early newborn phase is a major adjustment, with a lot of time and energy put toward getting into a groove with your baby. You’ll put a big energy investment into learning how to feed and care for your baby. All of this while your body is healing from a vaginal or Cesarean birth. It’s a lot! A postpartum doula is invaluable during this time. She can help you learn to breastfeed or bottle feed, soothe your newborn, set up an ideal sleep environment, and more.

Weeks 4-8 with a postpartum doula

Around weeks 4+, your PPD can help you start to stretch nighttime feedings (with your pediatrician’s OK). If your postpartum doula is providing overnight newborn care, she will begin to work on teaching your baby to soothe back to sleep without feeding, tiny increments at a time. The goal by 8 weeks is that your baby can do one 5-8 hour nighttime stretch, usually the first stretch of sleep after bedtime. This may or may not include a dream feed

During the day, a postpartum doula will continue to lighten your load. This can be the fussiest month for many babies as they’re truly “waking up to the world” and realizing that they are not going back to the nice cozy womb! Gas troubles, reflux, diaper rash and other common new baby struggles can crop up during this time. A postpartum doula is a wonderful asset during this second month postpartum. 

Weeks 8-12 with a postpartum doula

Some first-time parents wonder if they’ll still need a postpartum doula during weeks 8-12. In our experience, it’s very common for parents who book less than 12 weeks to inquire about extending their postpartum doula’s contract. 

By the third month, ideally most obstacles like getting a good breastfeeding latch have been tackled. But this is also when many parents are expected to resume prior responsibilities like full-time work. Or perhaps your relatives helped with meals or sibling childcare during the first few weeks, but now you’re back on your own. Most parents still very much appreciate postpartum doula care during weeks 8-12. 

If you’re working with a postpartum doula overnight, she might continue to help your baby stretch and slowly eliminate nighttime feedings. Not all doulas have experience with encouraging sleep, but Nightingale Doulas do! Your doula will help your baby learn to settle back to sleep on their own through a process called sleep conditioning. We don’t sleep train babies this young! But they can absolutely learn healthy sleep habits during this time with consistent and loving nighttime care. 

The goal by 12 weeks is sleeping through the night, if your baby is healthy and able to take in most/all of their calories during the day. This could be an 8-12 hour stretch if your doula is with you consistently, but a 5 hour stretch is completely typical if your overnight doula is not working on sleep conditioning.

If you’re working with a daytime postpartum doula, she can continue to help you during this phase by encouraging more daytime calories, providing reprieve so you can shower or rest, and taking care of light household tasks. This is also a common age for big transitions like learning to roll – which means transitioning out of the swaddle and bassinet for your baby. 

Weeks 12+ with a postpartum doula

Postpartum doula care does not have to end at 12 weeks. Some parents feel ready to fly on their own by this point, but others appreciate a more gradual transition. Weeks 12-16 can be a busy time for parents returning to work and helping their baby navigate the 4 month sleep regression. A PPD can help make these transitions much smoother for the whole family. 

Some postpartum doulas don’t work with families past 4 or so months postpartum. Others are happy to stay on to help with big transitions like dropping naps, teething, and introducing solids. It all depends on what works for your family and your doula. 

Booking a postpartum doula

As you can see, you long you’ll need postpartum doula support totally depends on several factors. Hopefully this breakdown of what a postpartum doula can do for you during the different months postpartum has helped you get a clearer picture of what might work for your family. 

It’s good to keep in mind that postpartum doulas do book up quickly, so it’s a good idea to plan as far ahead as possible. We’re asked to extend contracts frequently, and we do try but it’s just not always possible. If you’re not 100% sure what you’ll need, that’s perfectly okay! We encourage you to walk the middle line of what feels comfortable and to be open to a range of duration of care. That helps us open up the potential matches and find a schedule that works great for your family. We’re here to help you figure out what that means for you!