Supporting the Fourth Trimester: The benefits of a postpartum doula

By Danielle Spano

You have waited nine months, and now your baby is finally here! And after just a few days in the hospital with the help and care of the hospital staff, you are on your own. This period of adjusting to a new baby in the household is called the fourth trimester, and the Journal of Human Sciences considers this a crisis period where the whole family experiences the stress of adaptation. Similar to birth doulas, trained professionals that provide coaching and support during the birthing process, postpartum doulas provide support during this often very difficult transition at home.

Learning how to be a parent

The most popular advice a new mom receives is to sleep when the baby is sleeping, but this advice is hard to follow because postpartum sleep quality is extremely poor. Hormonal fluctuations, breastfeeding demands and the newborn’s needs make sleep difficult to attain. Sleep deprivation makes it difficult to learn how to properly care for a baby. A postpartum doula adds a helping hand so that mom can get some rest. This not only helps her to better concentrate on the baby during waking hours, but also reduces symptoms of postpartum depression.

In addition to sleeping tips, friends and family are quick to provide advice on caring for a newborn. This advice can be outdated, inadequate and sometimes judgmental. Postpartum doulas are trained to provide unbiased current, evidence-based information to help parents learn to be parents. From assisting with mom’s emotional and physical recovery to feeding/breastfeeding instruction to soothing and baby’s basic care, a postpartum doula can serve as an on-hand, in-house parenting class.

A helping hand

Spending anywhere from the first few days to a few weeks with the family, a postpartum doula is not only a parenting instructor! Along with sharing valuable information and tools to help care for mom and baby, a doula can do some light housekeeping, cooking or errands to allow the family time to practice caring for its newest member. It takes time to perfect all the new skills required to care for a new baby — swaddling, feeding, diapering and bathing are a whole new ball game to new parents. Doulas are not just for first time parents; with parents focused on caring for the new bundle of joy, siblings need some help adapting to having a new member of the family, too. Postpartum doulas have spent time with many a growing family and help the entire family adjust to the new changes.

The scope of service a postpartum doula can provide contributes to variations in what they may charge. Typically, the hourly rate ranges from $15–$50 an hour, depending on location, the extent of services you require, and the doula’s skill level. The cost of a postpartum doula is relative to the benefits they can provide. “Postpartum doulas can be a vital source of help when family members are too busy or do not live in the same community to help with the care of a new baby,” Teonia Burton, owner/labor & postpartum doula at All Families Birth & Wellness Services, said. Clinical research shows that the emotional, technical and practical support postpartum doulas provide have positive benefits to the family. The physical support a doula provides, from chores to hands-on baby assistance can improve sleep, which aids in a mother’s physical recovery and promotes physical activity, which promotes weight loss and increases lactation. Technical support decreases anxiety and increases confidence as parents learn proper care for their child. Finally, emotional support helps the entire family bond with the new baby and enjoy the new addition!