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What do postpartum doulas do?

They take a lot of the stress and worry out of life with a newborn.

Having a postpartum doula in your home in the first weeks after birth is like having one of the most experienced moms around show you the ropes and pamper your family with emotional and practical support. They’re especially helpful if you won’t have your mom or another experienced family member there to help out (or after they leave).

Here’s how:

  • They’ll walk you through every part of newborn care and your own self care—and can answer most newborn-related questions, like these:
    • How should I swaddle my baby? And how will I know it’s snug enough or too snug?
    • How do I give my baby a bath?
    • How, exactly, should I set up my baby’s sleep schedule and feeding schedule?
    • How can I recognize and soothe my baby’s cries?
    • What does the poop color mean?
    • What’s the best way to care for perineal tears?
  • They’re trained to recognize postpartum depression, which affects one of out of five new moms, and steer you to the help you need.
  • Many have special training to help you get breastfeeding off to a good start. They can help you overcome common problems—getting your baby to latch onto the nipple, easing nipple pain, worries about making enough milk—and  can make referrals to community resources and lend you books and other reading material.
  • They bring calm to those chaotic first weeks. In addition to helping you care for your newborn, most do meal prep, light housekeeping and laundry, run errands, shop for groceries, watch your baby’s older siblings (if any)—all so you can concentrate on the most important thing in your life right now: getting to know your baby and adjusting to your new life. Some even offer night-nurse duties, so you can sleep.
  • They can make a huge difference—now and later. Moms who use postpartum doulas, research shows, have lower rates of postpartum depression, more confidence, and more success with breastfeeding. Older siblings and partners also fare better, because there’s someone there who’s paying attention to them and involving them in ways that work for everyone. Having that foundation can help set you and your family up for success for years down the road.
  • They’re available for almost any schedule. Because most postpartum doulas are moms or grandmothers themselves, their hours vary a lot—from a straight 9 to 5 shift Monday to Friday to just a few hours a day on select days. Others work weekends, afternoons, or evenings only…or overnight from, say, 10 pm to 6 am. Many also offer email and phone support for those thorny questions that come up when no one’s around. 


Expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $50 or more an hour, depending on where you live, the experience and training of the person you’re hiring, and the services provided. As with most things, you generally get what you pay for. If all you want is someone to make meals and run errands, you’ll likely pay less. If you live in a pricey urban area and want someone more experienced, expect to pay at the upper end.

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What to look for: 

Aim to find someone with a lot of experience and training in the areas that matter most to you. DONA certification is a big plus. It means they’ve had special training and passed a rigorous exam.

More good things to know or do:

  • Interview the person (1:1 is best, or at least by phone or Skype) to make sure your personalities mesh. Key questions to ask:
    • What’s your background and training in infant care?
    • How does the timing work? What happens if, say, I give birth earlier than expected?
    • Can you tell me about your approach to infant sleep and breastfeeding?
    • Which services do you provide?
    • Is there a minimum amount of time I need to engage you for?
    • Have you ever had to deal with an emergency? What happened—and what did you do?
    • Can you provide a few recent references?
  • Hire ahead of time—at least a month before your baby is due (three months ahead is common in high-demand areas)—so you’ll have help when you need it.
  • Tip: If you can find someone who offers the whole package of postpartum services: newborn care and education, maternal and family care, breastfeeding support, and sleep consulting, you’ll save a lot of time and hassle hiring and supervising—and you’ll get the benefits of having someone who knows your family, your parenting philosophy, and your preferences well.
  • In many parts of the world, including the Netherlands and other European countries, in-home postpartum care is part of the standard package of health services all new moms receive. The payoff: lower rates of infant mortality, fewer cases of postpartum depression, and generally happier parents.

Photo: Joe Cheng/Flickr

See also:

By | 2017-08-12T12:47:13+00:00 December 13th, 2016|Baby, Expecting, Q&A|

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