When Emma Pattee, a Portland, Ore.-based writer, found out she was pregnant, she knew she wanted to hire a postpartum doula, at least for the first two nights.
“I heard that sleep was sort of the make-or-break point of the postpartum period,” she says. “It’s like, it can be enjoyable or be total agony. People say the concept of parenting is intuitive, but I felt like I had no idea what to do with the subtler parts, like how to do skin on skin contact properly.”
Ask any new parent and most (if not all) will tell you that navigating those first few days can be extremely challenging. For new parents such as Pattee who may not have had previous experience with young children, bringing a baby into the world can mean dealing with the emotional and logistical challenges.
For moms who have had birth complications or a cesarean delivery, the transition in the so-called “fourth trimester” — the three months after a baby is born — can get even more challenging. Not only are parents learning to care for a new child, but the mom needs to be cared for as well.
That’s where a postpartum doula can come in. These professionals are there to help and support you through this major life transition. In many cases, parents are thankful that they hired one.
What is a postpartum doula?
A postpartum doula offers services to help parents with the transition into life with a newborn child. The doula helps parents feel more confident in their roles as new parents and tends to the needs of the mother. Some tasks that the doula performs include breastfeeding support, light housekeeping, and helping with newborn care, such as changing diapers and bathing the baby.
Sue Chargo, a certified birth and postpartum doula and the founder of New Heart Doula, says that postpartum doulas also provide emotional support and comfort to families.
“I typically spend a lot of time helping with feeding and sleep questions,” Chargo says. “I also provide a lot of overnight support.”
For example, Pattee’s postpartum doula would show her how to hold the baby properly when breastfeeding, how to use and clean a breast pump, swaddle her newborn and organize her diaper bag. Her postpartum doula even helped her do laundry and clean up around the house.
“I thought of it like that friend who’ll show up and do whatever you need,” Pattee says. “Someone with a lot of baby experience.”
What to consider before hiring a postpartum doula
When it comes to hiring a postpartum doula, it’s crucial to find someone you trust. After all, this person will be there for some of your most vulnerable moments. You’re also asking someone to help you with caring for your young child.
The first thing to consider is a doula’s credentials. A certified postpartum doula typically goes through a rigorous training process that includes attending births, hands-on workshops and practicum training. This is to ensure the postpartum doula understands issues from lactation to bonding with the child. Places to start looking for postpartum doulas are ProDoula, DONA International and CAPPA — all of which are certifying agencies.
In addition, Chargo suggests interviewing a few postpartum doulas to ensure the right fit. To do so, first think about their level of experience, their background, and the personality you want in a doula.
“It’s important to make sure that the birthing family and the doula are a good fit for one another,” Chargo says. “At the end of the day, I tell people to also go with their instincts as that will take them far.”
Financial considerations also have to be part of the conversation before hiring help. The average cost of hiring a postpartum doula can be anywhere from $15 to $30 an hour, depending on their experience type of care you need. For example, Pattee remembers paying close to $40 an hour when she had her postpartum doula stay overnight.
Unfortunately, postpartum doulas aren’t covered by your health insurance, so costs can add up. Instead, see if some offer discounts if you book them for more hours or if the doula works on an income-sliding scale. If you know you want to hire one, consider asking friends and family to chip in toward the cost of one instead of traditional gifts at your baby shower.
How a postpartum doula can ease the transition into parenthood
It’s true that hiring a postpartum doula can cost big bucks, but it can be worth it for the emotional benefits you’ll receive.
Devon Clement, a postpartum doula for 10 years who runs a company called Happy Family After, prides herself on being a support system for parents, especially those who may not have other friends and family nearby to help. She’s chosen to help many single mothers because she understands how tough it is to care for a baby on their own.
Clement recalls a particularly touching story where she assisted a single mom who had complications after her birth and had to remain in the hospital.
“[The mom] asked me to care for the baby while she was there because I was the person she trusted the most with [the baby],” Clement says. “I was so honored to be able to help ease her mind while she had to be separated from her baby going through such a scary thing. Caring for the baby was the best and most supportive thing I could do.”
Chargo also recalls working with a surrogate for a LGBTQ couple. She remembers how the relationship between all three were very close, and she was able to help all of them through the transition.
“I was in awe of how giving they all were,” she says. “I have kept in touch with all of them, and [the couple] is planning to try for another baby.”
At the end of the day, the transition into parenthood can be fraught with confusion, tenderness and extreme vulnerability — so much so that parents can feel tired and helpless.
For Pattee, she and her husband were able to have a date night the first week after their son was born thanks to her doula. She felt it was special because Pattee was able to trust her postpartum doula to be with him without having to worry.
“That feeling is priceless,” she says.
Sarah Li Cain is a freelance personal finance, credit and real estate writer who works with Fintech startups and Fortune 500 financial services companies to educate consumers through her writing. Her clients include LendingTree, Transferwise, Discover and Quicken Loans. She’s also the host of Beyond The Dollar, where she and her guests have deep and honest conversations on how money affects our well-being. Opinions are those of the author or the person interviewed.
Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life does not endorse any companies or professionals listed, or offer the products, services and/or strategies discussed here.