The Benefits of a Postpartum Doula

08 Feb The Benefits of a Postpartum Doula

By Gwen Horwitz

 

Before I even became pregnant with my daughter, I knew I wanted to hire a birth doula.  Having taken the Prenatal Yoga Center’s teacher training, and then a doula training, I was keenly aware of the positive effects a doula can have on the laboring mom, partner, and how the labor itself progresses.  Just read any study, the proof is there.  Little did I know how much the postpartum doula we hired, almost as an after thought, would really save me those first weeks of being a new mom.
Since I was already immersed in the world of birth, I also had some knowledge of a postpartum doula (PPD).  The definition of a PPD according to the American Pregnancy Association, is that she
   “…provides evidenced based information on things such as infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother–baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care.  A postpartum doula is there to help a new family in those first days and weeks after bringing home a new baby. Research  shows that moms, dads and babies have an easier time with this transition if a  good support team is in place.”
 
I once overhead a few pregnant moms discussing hiring a PPD, and one of them said, “Isn’t she just an overpriced babysitter?”  I could not help but jump in and share how helpful my PPD had been for my family.  I feel very fortunate that I have amassed a ton of information on the pre and postnatal world (thank you Prenatal Yoga Center!), and I wish I could just walk around handing out giant folders of this stuff (or flashdrives!) to prenatal mamas on the street.
Before I list the ways in which my amazing PPD, LaShanda Dandrich, also an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), saved me those first six weeks, here is a little backstory:
My husband and I had been aiming for a natural birth, where I would labor at home for as long as possible with our doula, and then go to the hospital.  However, my labor unfolded in a very erratic and unpredictable way.  So after over two days of laboring at home, and at least 3 nights of no sleep, we went to the hospital.  I am pretty confident my daughter was malpositioned, which caused such a long labor.  She was not willing to descend very much, and I decided with the doctor that we needed to go the c-section route.
When I envisioned my labor, I did not imagine 3 plus nights of no sleep, followed by major surgery.
I was a mess.
When my husband handed me our daughter, I  was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted.  From a place of sheer love I was able to feel joy and wonder as Lucia nursed for the first time, snuggled up on my chest.  And after an hour I crashed.
After four full, busy, and not so restful days at the hospital, the three of us took a yellow NYC taxi home.

When we pulled up in front of our apartment building, LaShanda was waiting outside.  I barely knew what day it was, and I smiled meekly at her and she smiled back.  My husband brought Lucia to our apartment, while LaShanda helped me navigate our 4th floor walkup.​

I say all of this because I think it is important to note that we just never know what our labor and birth journey will bring us.  We had originally thought LaShanda would be with us for a couple of weeks, but since we did not have family right near by, my husband had to go back to work, and I was recovering from the surgery, she was with us for six weeks.  Her assistance was monumental, and here are just some of the ways in which she supported us.
1. She reminded me to eat.
I cannot remember a time in my life when I have not eaten three meals a day, plus at least two snacks.  I’m a creature of habit and I love food.  I was shocked when LaShanda around noon on our first day home said, “How about some food?”  It was like I hadn’t been in my body at all.  I was so focused on Lucia.  And in fact, yes, I was STARVING.
2. She made sure I stayed hydrated.
Breastfeeding was very important to me.  Staying hydrated is an easy way to keep up your milk supply.  Also, I had never known thirst, like REALLY known thirst, until I was nursing.  It was like every atom of water was going straight to my boobs.  In short, I could become easily parched.  LaShanda made sure all I had to do was sit and nurse, and she would fill up my water.
3. Help with breastfeeding.
Postpartum doulas learn some basics about breastfeeding.  LaShanda in particular was training to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. so she was really able to help me with nursing.  The first few weeks of breastfeeding Lucia were not easy, and LaShanda was able to show me different positions to nurse in, where to place my arms (it’s amazing how the smallest things can make a difference with getting your baby to latch properly!), and taught me what I should be looking for in Lucia as she nursed, to make sure she was really getting milk.
And pumping.  Oh the pumping.  Since my milk wasn’t come in very easily, I needed to pump in the beginning.  It was a lot for my fatigued brain to process, and LaShanda was able to hold Lucia while I would do my pumping rounds.  She also showed me a genius way to cut slits in an old sports bra so I could be hands free while pumping!
4. SLEEP.
LaShanda ensured I napped as much as possible when she was visiting.  Lucia, to put it bluntly, was the WORST sleeper EVER.  We’re talking one hour stretches at a time would be a miracle.  So LaShanda got me into a good routine of eating something, drinking something, nursing Lucia (which could take an hour), and then nap.  I will admit, sometimes I would lie awake in my bed scrolling through my phone, because I felt so tweaked those first few weeks, it was hard for me to let my mind rest.
5. Doctor’s appointments.
Since I had a c-section, I needed a lot of help walking around, especially outside.  We didn’t want Lucia to bottle feed, so that meant she needed to be with me almost all the time.  Since Lucia’s weight was on the low side, we had to bring her to the doctor a few times for checkups.  Honestly, with the lack of sleep, and really never having had experience with infants before, I really needed the help just being out the door as a new mom and forming sentences for the doctor.  LaShanda could translate English into English for me, since she knew what I was trying to get at.
6. Mothering the Mother.
This is a big one.  Often times we place so much attention on the baby, and we forget about the moms.  The ones that the baby really needs.  So wouldn’t it make sense that we do everything we can to ensure mom is content?  A PPD can mother the mother, and ensure she is well, benefitting everybody.  And for moms who have limited experience with babies, like me, they can show us how to easily change diapers, tricks for getting babies to sleep, and so much more.  I had taken an infant care class, but I really learn through hands-on experience.
7. Companionship.
Being a new mom can be very isolating.  Since my husband and I do not have large families, or family members that can just easily pop over for visits, it was extremely comforting to know that LaShanda would be there during the week.  Just being able to talk to another adult was very refreshing.  I also experienced some feelings of post-partum blues.  Nothing severe, but I do think having another woman in the house really helped, and may have prevented the more sad feelings from growing.  I find that new moms do not open up so easily about the loneliness and even fear that can arise with new parenthood.  There’s an expectation that new moms will immediately connect to and know what to do with their baby.  This was just not the case for me.  I loved Lucia right away, but I did not instantaneously know how to soothe her.  The first few weeks were awkward.  And while it may not be what we hear every day, it’s like I had to get to know her a little better before my heart utterly and completely cracked wide open.  That is hard to write, but it is true.  Maybe, and perhaps more accurately, I needed some time to adjust to the fact that I COULD do this.  I COULD be her mom, and a good one.  It’s an important job.  And it should be.  And just like any other job, it took me a little bit of time to get used to it, and I needed some help.
I stumbled upon this quote by Linda Wooten recently, and it really resonated with me: “Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”  And LaShanda helped me with just that.

 

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