Postpartum Doulas Think on Their Feet

baby breastfeeding postpartum doula postpartum doula training Nov 23, 2021

Here I was, a newbie postpartum doula (less than six months), wondering if I knew enough to be doing this work.  I never imagined I’d walk into a home and find a dehydrated baby.  I walked in and greeted the Mom. She shared with me that the breastfeeding was somewhat challenging. So I suggested that she show me when her baby was ready to feed.

As I observed the feeding, I watched the baby bob on and off the breast. The Mom shared with me that he always did it that way. He was about three or four days old. I also heard a very squeaky cry, and noticed very dry lips.  The baby looked skinny too. Everything started to add up to this baby definitely not getting enough food.

I’ll never forget the feeling of my heart pumping so fast that it felt like it would explode. On the outside I remained calm. Looking back on this, I’m not sure how I managed to hide my concern.  What I recall is that I suggested we feed the baby with some pumped milk, or even some formula if available.  Instead of a bottle, I suggested we try the dropper so as not to confuse the baby. And, I also asked her if I could talk to the breastfeeding support person at her pediatrician's office.

We took some time to get the baby some food. His Mom was very calm, and had no idea that there was anything wrong. I went in the other room and called the pediatrician’s office. After I explained it all, they said she should come in that afternoon. I relayed this to the Mom.

When I showed up the next day for my shift they weren’t home. The baby had been admitted (I found out later) to the hospital for severe dehydration, and his Mom stayed with him. What would have happened had I not stepped in when I did?

I believe it was divine intervention.  Even though I didn’t know a lot, I knew enough to listen to my gut instinct.

It was a lesson in trust, communication, and resourcefulness.  This is why I always emphasize with new doulas that what’s important is to be observant, and to share any concerns. Ignoring your gut feeling never ends well.  Intellectual and cognitive knowing is all well and good. Yet, it won’t solve every challenge, and provide every solution. A postpartum doula must be able to think on her feet.

Probably not more than a month or two later, I was with another postpartum doula client. She was experiencing a challenge with positioning and latch-on due to very large breasts. As I observed the breastfeeding session, I noticed a very sleepy baby and disinterest in the breast. The mother shared with me that it was quite a production to figure out how to get a good latch. We tried a few things, like rolling a towel under the breast, and shifting the baby from cradle hold to other positions.  Nothing seemed to be working, and the baby was very hard to awaken.

She had already had a call in to the breastfeeding support through the hospital and was going to be seen later that day. I already knew that the baby wasn’t getting enough milk, and that it was likely another situation of dehydration. It turned out that he was dehydrated, and was hospitalized.

I began to think maybe I was a jinx. How could there be two dehydrated babies in such a short span? I flipped it around and felt grateful that I arrived in each situation in time to help those babies and mothers.  This is what postpartum doulas do.

There are lessons and blessings for each of us in this lifetime. Being called to the work of a postpartum doula is a gift. Just as in life, there will be highs and lows, and love and fear. You know what you know, and you do your best with each family you serve.  Trusting yourself, and your intuition is one of the greatest gifts you have. Do this, and you will always be what’s needed in every case.


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