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Birth Doula vs. Postpartum Doula – Which Do I Need?

The roles of each of these types of doulas are very different.  Which one (or both) you may need can be determined by knowing how each one provides essential support.

The Labor Support Doula

The labor doula is a support person for the laboring woman and her partner through the process of labor and delivery.  She typically helps in a hospital setting.

Labor can be scary and overwhelming for both the mother and her partner. A doula is there to provide emotional and physical support.

She is a good source of information, as well, during labor helping the couple understand their options and explaining procedures that may be suggested or needed during labor.  Her role is to lessen stress and anxiety for both the mother and her spouse.

Scheduling and choosing a labor support doula:

It is important to meet your doula in advance of reserving her.  Some families choose to meet a few different labor support doulas to decide on one that is a good fit for the couple.

Labor doulas can schedule only one or two births a month as due dates are unpredictable. You may want to reserve as much as 5 or 6 months in advance of your due date, if possible.

On the visit, find out her views on natural and non-medicated birth, medications, and how she sees her role on the medical team.  She can help you to make a birth plan that can be given to the medical team prior to your labor so that everyone understands your preferences in advance.  

Your birth plan will be implemented as much as possible depending on how your labor progresses and your baby is doing.

Practical Support

Your labor doula will help you understand the stages of labor that you are going through and offer practical suggestions for pain management during each phase of labor.  She has been trained in comfort techniques that will help you move through your labor with a minimum need of interference and with maximum support for you.

Studies show that having a labor support person lessens the length of labor, minimizes the need for pain medications and other physical interventions, and lowers Caesarian section rates.  These positive results of having doula support is attributed to the doula helping to relieve the stress and anxiety of the mother thus decreasing the release of stress hormones that can actually slow, and in some women, stop labor from progressing.

Other Helpful Benefits

Having a labor doula provides support to the partner or spouse as well.  The doula does not take the place of the woman’s partner, but she can make suggestions for him on ways he can help if he wants to be the main support person.  She can provide information and suggestions to him as to how to provide some hands-on support.

The partner can decide how much he wants to be involved and the doula will pick up the support where he may leave off.  The doula being there allows the partner to take a break to stretch his legs, to get a cup of coffee and something to eat without him feeling like he is abandoning his partner.

Breastfeeding moms will benefit, too, from having a labor doula as the doula will assist in helping to get nursing off to a good start right at the time of birth.  

Studies show babies who are allowed skin-to-skin contact and suckling time right from delivery, have less problems with nursing, especially with the baby learning to latch correctly.  The doula can assist with advocating for this as well as teaching the new mom to breastfeed.

Do you need a Labor Doula?  Here are some questions to ask yourself (and your spouse)

  • Is this your first baby?
  • Is this your 2nd or 3rd baby but you were unhappy with the way your previous labor went?  
  • Did a previous birth end with a C-sect and you want to try for a VBAC?
  • Do you want a positive birth experience?
  • Do you want a non-medicated birth, if possible?
  • Do you think having a knowledgeable advocate will be helpful while you are in labor in the hospital?
  • Is your partner anxious about labor and delivery?

If you answered “Yes” to any of the above questions you may want to explore hiring a labor support doula for your birth.  

MothersCare Doula Services can provide excellent labor support doulas who are there to support your every need and provide respectful advocacy for you to have the birth you envision in the hospital setting.  

The Postpartum Doula

The role of the Postpartum Doula is also to lessen stress and anxiety in the new family by providing practical emotional and physical support for the new mom and her family.  

Needs of the Postpartum Mother

New mothers need rest and reassurance that they are doing everything correctly.  The second-time mother needs rest and assurance that her older child or children’s needs are being cared for.

Your doula will focus on the needs of the mother and thereby fill the needs of her family. Every postpartum mother needs (at the very least) two weeks to rest, establish nursing and have time to get to know her baby.

Many first-time moms often are so used to going 24/7 that they don’t understand the need for rest after delivery.  Pregnant women are given good prenatal care and preparation for labor and delivery, but many are blind-sided by how they feel after giving birth – both physically and emotionally.  

It is important to understand that the “work” of the postpartum woman is all happening internally. Her body after delivery immediately begins to regulate her hormones from being in a pregnant state to a non-pregnant state, her hormones also begin to flow for breastfeeding and the making of a strong milk-supply.  Her body immediately begins repairing from delivery whether she had a vaginal delivery, or a C-section.

Emotionally, the postpartum mom must also begin to process becoming a mother. You can read all you can about having a baby, but the emotional changes brought on when holding your new baby can be extraordinary and life-changing.  

There needs to be some quiet time to process this start of motherhood. For second time moms, there is a lot of emotions that go along with bringing a sibling into the picture when she’s adored her firstborn and the one-on-one time they have shared.

Everyone needs time to adjust to the new normal. Having a postpartum doula eases this adjustment.

If a postpartum mom starts to physically expend energy by doing her usual life such as laundry, cooking, housework, and keeping and eye on her toddler etc., her body will not have the energy for all those internal processes that are happening.  

The result is that something will go awry. She may bleed more, cry easily, be irritable, and have a lower milk supply as her body cannot do the things it needs to do if she is physically doing too much, too early in her postpartum.

How the Postpartum Doula can help

Your postpartum doula will do whatever is needed to lessen the stress and lighten the load on the new mom and dad.  Your doula will provide emotional support as well as guidance to the new mom on newborn care and breastfeeding.

The doula can provide baby care but doesn’t have to touch the baby unless the mom wants help with her baby.  She will help keep siblings busy and safe so mom can rest. The doula can do laundry for the whole family, make meals for everyone as well as provide light housework, shopping and other errands – whatever is needed to help everyone adjust to the arrival of their new baby.  

Having a postpartum doula can also allow the Dad to go to work without worrying about his wife, baby and older children. 

Postpartum doulas can also support the family at night.  Overnight doulas can help with a newly breastfeeding mother, helping her during the feedings or the doula can care for the baby exclusively if a baby is formula fed or being fed with a bottle.  This allows mom and dad to get some unbroken sleep or lessen the “up-time” of a breastfeeding mother.

Do you need a Postpartum Doula?

  • Do you have any female help when you come home from the hospital?
  • If members in your family have offered to come, will your family help do practical things for you such as laundry and meal preparation without being asked?
  • Will your husband or partner be able to stay with you for the first two weeks?
  • Is this your first baby?
  • Is this your first time that you will be breastfeeding?
  • If you have other children, are they old enough to care for themselves?
  • Are you prone to depression?

If you answer “Yes” to any of these questions, you may want to consider hiring a postpartum doula.  

MothersCare Doula Services provides nurturing, experienced, and trustworthy postpartum doulas to help you to rest and get back on your feet after the arrival of your baby.  We have no minimum number of days or overnights that you are required to contract for. Our services are very flexible.

Please call for more information @203-375-5719 or go on our website and fill-in an online form www.motherscaredoula.com

About Susan Shepard

I am the owner/partner of MothersCare Doula Services in CT. I am a Postpartum doula and my business partner, Sheila Marley is a Labor doula. MothersCare places both Labor and Postpartum doulas with CT Families. I am the mom of five beautiful children, one set of twins. The best quote for me as a young mother and the catalyst for MothersCare is “It’s not weakness to know you need help, it’s wisdom.”

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