Doula [doo-luh]: noun 1. a woman who assists women during labor and after childbirth. 2. a professional who provides support and assistance to individuals or families, especially during a medical or emotional crisis … Origin Mod Greek: “female servant”. (http://www.dictionary.com/doula)
Whether you had a Doula present during your labor and birth, or you’ve hired one for the postpartum period, your Doula is there to help you.
- Have a plan. You may have created a birth plan for your labor, but have you thought about how you’ll manage the weeks after the birth. Sit down with your partner and discuss who will take care of shopping, laundry, housekeeping, etc. Talk about baby care – what expectations do you each have? Be flexible and open-minded. Remember that baby care is a 24/7 prospect.
- It’s normal to not remember the details. In the heat of the moment, you may not remember what time they broke your bag of water, how long you pushed, or what you said to your providers. A birth doula typically offers a session in the immediate postpartum to “debrief” you about your baby’s entry into the world.
- Eat well and stay hydrated. Taking care of a baby takes up lots of your time. But in order to be your best as a parent, you need to feel your best. Be sure you are eating often (have on hand lots of nutrient dense foods that take little prep time!) and drinking to thirst. This is especially important if you’re fatigued (which is normal with the sleep disruptions you will be experiencing).
- Don’t start doing too much too soon, but remember that regular exercise will help you feel better. Having a new baby in the house is exhausting! Many cultures have a period of recover for a new mom – sometimes even several weeks where mom is pampered and cared for as she heals from birth and transitions to her new life. While we may not have such a thing in Western cultures, healthcare providers recommend not carrying anything heavier than your baby for the first week after birth, then slowly resuming your regular routine. Adding exercise slowly, but being sure to get some every day, will aid with physical recover and with fatigue.
- Physical recovery can take a while. Don’t expect to return home after the birth and immediately fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes! It’s not just the weight that can take a while to return to normal – pregnancy is hard on all of your body’s systems. Your heart, lungs and digestive system had to work harder, and your muscles and internal organs had to shift, stretch and even move. If you’ve had a cesarean birth or an episiotomy, you will be dealing with a healing surgical incision. Consider physical therapy to help you on your way to recovery. Find a practitioner who focuses on women’s health and the postpartum period. Your physical therapist may suggest, for instance, specialized exercises or tools (like vaginal weights) for getting your pelvic floor muscles back in shape or strengthening your core.
- Mood swings are normal. The shift in hormones in the immediate postpartum can cause you to feel weepy at the littlest things. And parenting a newborn is hard – it’s normal to sometimes feel that it’s all too much. But if these feelings persist, if you are overwhelmed by motherhood, if you are feeling sad most of the time and not finding any joy in life, you may be suffering from postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is treatable – don’t think you need to just suffer though! Let your healthcare provider know if you think it’s more than normal baby blues – a doula can be really helpful in sorting out your changing emotions and helping you to get the help you need.
- Find your own parenting style – but don’t be scared if it doesn’t come naturally. Think of the first three months after birth you’re your 4 th Your baby is learning to adapt to the outside world, and you’re learning to be a parent. You may read books and blogs, and participate in message boards, online chats or local support groups. But you will find your own individual way of parenting your own unique baby. Just because it comes from an “expert” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good fit for your family. Follow your intuition and parent from the heart.
- Breastfeeding may have challenges. There’s a learning curve to nursing your baby – while your baby and your body are programmed for this feeding interaction, the logistics of getting baby to the breast can sometimes be challenging. And it can sometimes be painful in the early days. A doula can help you find a comfortable position for nursing, and may be able to help get your baby latched and nursing well. But she can also help you to get additional support from a lactation consultant if needed.
- Consider journaling. A doula can provide a great deal of emotional support, but sometimes getting your thoughts down in a personal diary is useful. Even if you’re not writing about your inner feelings, you might consider jotting down your baby’s daily changes and major milestones – which will make a great keepsake!
- Settle into your new normal. When you have a baby, your life is changed. You are no long a woman, but a mother, too. You are no longer a couple, but a family. These changes create a new normal. The adjustments may be longer or shorter for each member of the family. Occasional nostalgia over life before baby is normal, but recognizing and embracing the changes your new baby brings will propel you forward into motherhood.