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Doulas make birth and the postpartum experience better for new parents. The term doula is on the rise as more and more parents embrace the vital role that these professionals serve. But even as the demand for doulas increases, the work that they do is not always clear to new parents. Many expecting parents hear about the importance of hiring a doula, but still wonder “what is a doula?” The truth is, there are several kinds of doulas whose professional work spans across the perinatal year and beyond. All doulas provide non-medical emotional, educational, and sometimes physical support for new parents. Let’s explore the different types of doulas and how they can be an asset to you on your journey to parenthood.
When parents wonder “what is a doula?” they most often think of a birth doula. Birth or labor doulas are trained to provide continuous support throughout labor, birth, and the first few hours postpartum. Most parents being working with their doula prenatally, in which case the doula can provide customized childbirth education and assistance with creating a birth or postpartum plan. Contrary to popular belief, birth doulas are not only for women seeking an unmedicated birth. Birth doulas are trained to provide comfort measures, emotional support, positional support, advocacy, and evidence-based information for families having all types of birth experiences: spontaneous, induced, Cesarean, medicated, unmedicated, etc. Birth doulas work with families at hospitals, birthing centers, and at planned home births.
Postpartum care in the US is sorely lacking, with many parents having only one or two quick checkups with their care provider several weeks after the birth. Postpartum doulas fill a vital role by providing non-medical physical, emotional, and educational support for brand new families. Postpartum doulas provide educational and emotional support and are a wealth of information on all things post-birth healing, breastfeeding, and newborn care. Postpartum doulas also serve an important role in connecting families with resources in their community like pelvic floor therapists, family counselors, chiropractors, and more. But the heart of postpartum doula care is in-home support. They help families understand their baby’s cues, get a comfortable latch during breastfeeding, understand the stages of postpartum healing, and more. Some postpartum doulas provide overnight newborn care and others help the fmaily during the daytime. Daytime postpartum doulas can also help with household tasks to help take the load off of new parents, so they have more time to rest and bond with their babies. Here’s what a Nightingales postpartum doula can do for parents during a day shift:
- Soothing and comforting the baby
- Organizing and restocking the nursery
- Bathing baby and/or teaching parents how to bathe the baby
- Bottle feeding and/or cleaning, sanitizing, and preparing new bottles
- Breastfeeding assistance and advice on proper breastmilk storage
- Washing, folding, putting away infant’s laundry
- Maintaining a daily log of infant’s feeding times and oz consumed, diaper changes, etc.
- Answering parent’s questions, providing evidence-based resources
- Sleep conditioning and creating a workable schedule where applicable
- Light meal prep, loading/unloading dishwasher
‘Antenatal’ or ‘antepartum’ means “before birth – AKA during pregnancy. While many parents begin working with a birth doula during pregnancy, antenatal doulas provide more robust prenatal support. Many families who hire an antenatal doula are facing high-risk or otherwise difficult pregnancies that may require bed rest or reduced activity. Antenatal doulas provide similar in-home support to postpartum doulas like light housekeeping, meal prep, older sibling care, pet care, organization. In addition, they provide much-needed emotional support, education, and resources for expecting families.
Many families bringing another baby into the world nowadays have no relatives or support system local to them. This can leave parents feeling uncertain about childcare for older siblings during a subsequent birth. Enter: the sibling doula. Sibling doulas specialize in helping older siblings adjust to the idea of a baby sibling and provide continuous on-call childcare during the birth. Many sibling doulas offer childbirth education classes tailored to toddlers and young children as well.
Fertility doulas work with parents trying to conceive. Fertility doulas help parents during the preconception phase with education and emotional support. For parents just starting their TTC journey, fertility doulas provide evidence-based information such as cycle charting and signs of ovulation. For those facing decisions about infertility treatments or Assisted Reproductive Technology, fertility doulas help parents understand their options and make informed decisions. Trying to conceive can be a long and emotional journey, and fertility doulas are trained to provide not only educational resources but emotional support as well.
Pregnancy is sadly not always a joyous time. Pregnancy loss happens in one of four pregnancies. Bereavement doulas are trained to provide much-needed emotional support to parents facing miscarriage, termination, or stillbirth. In addition to a caring presence, bereavement doulas offer physical comfort measures when applicable and hep connect bereaved parents to resources in their community. Grief is a heavy undertaking, and bereavement doulas help parents manage the load and work through their loss with a trained and compassionate guide.
Doulas are for Everyone
As you can see, doulas are not one-size-fits-all. Every doula is unique and brings individual care, training, and experience to the table. No matter what your story, there is a doula for you. Now, instead of asking, “what is a doula?” you can ask yourself, “what kind of doula is best for our family?”