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What is a Postpartum Doula?

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  • Written By: Mary Beth Adomaitis
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 24 April 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A postpartum doula is a non-medical caregiver who helps a new mother and her family in their home following a baby's birth. Besides emotional assistance, a doula may help with the transformation into new motherhood by offering newborn care tips and breastfeeding support. A doula often also performs light housekeeping duties such as cooking, cleaning, running errands and tending to older siblings.

A doula is typically well-versed in either childbirth or postnatal care or has received some formal training. Training may be in nursing, social work, home health care or a related field. Doulas are not normally doctors, nor are they typically trained in the medical profession. Doulas may receive certification, however, though one of several international organizations such as DONA International. Trained doulas often are certified in CPR and have taken classes related to breastfeeding, postpartum depression and caring for a newborn.

The word doula is Greek for female servant or slave. Because of this negative connotation, Greek women who provide labor and postpartum support often call themselves birthworkers or labor companions.  A postpartum doula is not a nanny or a baby nurse, but is hired when the mother needs some extra help caring for her baby and household. 

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A postpartum doula is different than a labor or birth support doula. The former cares for the mother during labor and delivery, whereas a postpartum doula typically looks after the mother and baby during the the six-week time frame that begins immediately following the birth of a baby. During this time, a mother commonly experiences a range of physical and emotional changes, such as hair loss, weight gain or loss, constipation and depression or sadness. A doula can help the new mother understand and cope with these changes, and if necessary, assist her in receiving the proper medical care to help ensure her and the baby's overall health.

A doctor, midwife, childbirth instructor or hospital may refer a postpartum doula. Several organizations, such as DONA International or Doula Network, may also help with this search. A postpartum doula should normally be interviewed between the fourth and sixth month of pregnancy and should provide references. A contract typically is signed between both parties outlining the doula's services. 

The cost of a postpartum doula varies depending on experience, skills and amount of work performed. A health insurance provider can verify if these services are covered. Postpartum doulas work with families anywhere from a few weeks up to a couple of months depending on the amount and type of care needed. A doula typically does not live with the family for which she is caring. 

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