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Are lots of people telling you to hire a doula? They’re not wrong – doulas have a strong track record of helping parents have better birth and postpartum experiences. But when you start to dig into the question ‘what is a doula?‘, you quickly find that there’s not one simple answer. There are lots of different kinds of doulas! The two most common types of doulas are birth doulas and postpartum doulas. So, what is the difference between a birth doula and a postpartum doula? Let’s find out!
What is a birth doula?
A birth doula is a non-medical labor support person. They are trained to provide emotional and hands-on comfort measures during labor and birth. They help parents advocate for their rights in the labor room, and educate them on different choices in childbirth.
Prior to labor, birth doulas support parents during the prenatal period. During pregnancy, birth doulas educate parents on the many choices they will face throughout the childbearing year. They help parents create a birth plan and prepare for labor on all levels – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Birth doulas are on-call around the clock to support parents when labor begins.
Birth doulas are also trained in basic postpartum and lactation support. Most birth doulas provide some amount of postpartum care, at minimum one follow-up visit to process the birth story. Some birth doulas provide more in-depth postpartum care such as ongoing virtual support and/or home visits.
What does a birth doula do?
Birth doulas work tirelessly to help parents have better birth experiences.
During pregnancy, this may look like:
- In-person and/or virtual pregnancy support – your own personal birth expert’s brain to pick!
- Help with creating a birth plan
- Help with choosing a care provider or birth place
- Practical preparation for baby – product suggestions, creating a postpartum plan
- Emotional support – there for you when those inevitable big feelings come up
- Physical support – suggesting exercises to prepare for labor, practicing comfort measures and labor positions
- Educational support – helping you explore your options in pregnancy, birth, and early parenthood
- On-call to support you when labor begins
During labor, this may look like:
- Phone and text support during early labor
- Physical comfort measures during active labor (massage, counterpressure, etc.)
- Help with getting into different positions to help move labor along
- Emotional support throughout
- Partner support – helping partners best support the laboring person
- Advocacy – helping parents advocate for themselves when facing difficult choices
- Educational support – helping parents understand different terms and choices that come up in a hospital setting
After birth, this may look like:
- Helping with your baby’s first feeding – getting a comfortable latch or introducing the first bottle
- Helping you get comfortable after birth – ensuring you’ve had something to eat and drink, tucking you in, etc.
- VIrtual and/or in-home visit(s) to process your birth and answer questions
The services that a birth doula provides will vary from doula to doula. For example, some provide several prenatal meetings, while others meet only once prior to labor. Some birth doulas work as part of a team, while others work solo (always with solid back-up!). Every birth doula has their own style. While one birth doula isn’t for everyone, there IS a doula for every type of family.
How are birth doulas trained?
There are many different birth doula trainings. Some are intensive and hands-on. Some are virtual and self-paced. And there’s a whole lot of choices in between. When interviewing a potential birth doula, it’s important to ask about their training and background to see if their level of education feels like a good fit for your family.
What is a postpartum doula?
A postpartum doula is a non-medical postnatal support person. They are trained to help new parents in the early weeks and months after birth. Postpartum doulas offer in-home and virtual support to new parents: parent education on newborn care, breastfeeding and bottle feeding support, newborn care reprieve while parents rest, and light housework such as washing bottles and laundry. Some postpartum doulas offer light meal prep while others specialize in cooking elaborate nourishing meals for parents.
Postpartum doulas are also known for their ability to provide parents with additional referrals when needed, such as for family counseling, lactation consulting or pelvic floor therapy. They are trained to keep a keen eye for common postpartum struggles such as postpartum mood disorders.
What does a postpartum doula do?
Every postpartum doula has their own style, background, and experience that they bring to the table. Services vary widely in that some postpartum doulas have niche areas of expertise (nutrition, lactation, etc.). Postpartum doulas also each have their own level of comfort with household tasks, as in some like to dive into cleaning and meal prep while others don’t provide household chores. Some postpartum doulas work only during the day, others work only overnight, and some can work around the clock.
In general, a postpartum doula can provide:
- New parent education – baby care, safe sleep, soothing, milestones, babywearing, etc.
- Basic lactation support – getting a comfortable latch, troubleshooting simple issues, recognizing when more in-depth lactation support is warranted
- Newborn care reprieve while parents rest or practice self-care
- Light housework: washing bottles, tidying the nursery
- Professional referrals (i.e. therapists) and community referrals (i.e. new mom groups)
- Product recommendations
How are postpartum doulas trained?
As with birth doulas, there are a variety of trainings to become a postpartum doula. Some trainings are more reputable than others. Postpartum doula trainings come in a variety of formats, from in-person workshops to online courses. Always ask about training during a postpartum doula interview. It’s best to hire a postpartum doula prenatally, so you can ensure availability and a good fit.
Birth doula vs. postpartum doula explained
There’s no doubt about it: doulas are amazing. Birth doulas and postpartum doulas aim to help parents have better experiences in pregnancy, birth, and new parenthood. The difference between birth doulas and postpartum doulas are the stages of the childbearing year that they focus on. Birth doulas primarily work with parents prenatally and during labor, while postpartum doulas primarily work with parents after birth. Many doulas are trained in both birth and postpartum, and can support your family throughout!