How Long Does a Postpartum Doula Stay With a Family?Nov 09, 2021
As a postpartum doula trainer I get asked this question a lot. I remember one postpartum doula training session where I said the word depends so many times, it became a joke. There are many answers to this question, as there are to other questions about serving families.
The families you serve as a postpartum doula have different needs. And, things can change and do change weekly and daily.
Generally speaking, the fourth trimester or the postpartum period of birth lasts for about three months. It is during this time frame when the postpartum doula serves families. These three months are when the baby is adjusting to life outside the womb. A new baby learns to breathe on their own, and has to ask for food, warmth, touch and everything they need. It takes them much longer to integrate new information.
Prior to birth, a baby’s every need was met automatically!!
When does the postpartum doula show up to help? This depends on whether the family has other support, whether they want to be alone for the first several days or weeks, if they have breastfeeding challenges, or want emotional or physical support from a non-family member. There are so many variables, including comfort level with a newborn, breastfeeding confidence, emotional reactions after birth and work situations.
As I have written in a previous blog, I highly recommend that postpartum doulas spend some time prenatally with their clients. This will create connection and time to get to know the family. The more you learn, the more you’ll know what to expect, and what the family expects. You can also allow for some flexibility, so parents know that there’s no exact preparation.
If that’s the case, then how does a postpartum doula create a schedule with her clients? How flexible can she be? A postpartum doula can be serving more than one family at a time. Her clients need to know that, so they’re aware that times could shift. Set a weekly schedule, discuss times of day or night ahead of the birth, and be prepared to fulfill that.
Yet, the future is always uncertain and life is filled with many surprises.
Back to the question of how long a postpartum doula stays with a family. I believe the earlier a postpartum doula starts, the better. By helping families in the first two to six weeks, a postpartum doula can help with breastfeeding, rest, address concerns, and watch for any physical or emotional reactions that require attention or referrals.
When a postpartum doula stays beyond three months, is she wearing a different hat? Babysitter, nanny, companion? There are many doulas who would argue for long term service because there’s a long term paycheck attached. It’s important to help a family establish day and night routines, and come up with a plan for a support system. If a family becomes dependent on a postpartum doula long term, how does that create confidence in the new mother and father?
There may be exceptions or circumstances like when the doula starts later and there was a rocky start with breastfeeding. Or, mother has a severe case of postpartum depression, or there is absolutely no other support is available.
I was taught that a postpartum doula works her way out of a job. I teach that to my postpartum doula students.
While it does take a village to raise a tiny human, it’s also important for parents and close caregivers to bond and establish routines and rituals, and to learn to navigate life with their newborn baby.
You’ll know when your time is up if you’re paying attention and watching the new mother and family blossom with joy and confidence. Sometimes, you’ll have to begin service with another family and you may leave feeling like there’s more to be done. There always will be. You can still be a resource and life line once your postpartum doula job is over.
Trust your instincts, use your resources, and serve from your heart.
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