“What is a Postpartum Doula?”An Interview with Jada Shapiro

What is a postpartum doula, how do they differ from a baby nurse, and how can they help you prepare for a new addition to the family? We sat down with maternal healthcare expert and the founder of Boober, Jada Shapiro to answer these questions and more. 

This article is 1 of a 3 part series discussing postpartum doula care, mental health, and breastfeeding & lactation support. Skip to the bottom to watch the full interview.

What is a postpartum doula? 

A postpartum doula is a person who is trained to take care of not only the baby after birth but also the birthing parent: the mother, the father, the family, and the whole structure. A postpartum doula helps new parents transition into parenthood. They help with anything from teaching baby care, babywearing, working on lactation, feeding you, caring for you, and going to the pediatrician with you. [They help you] get out the door the first time you have to leave the house – which seems really easy, but for anybody who’s actually had a baby, they know it’s quite hard. They pack up your bag and figure out what you need for that outing to get [you] to the pediatrician. Postpartum doulas really are all about baby care and you care, so they combine the best of both worlds.

Our goal as postpartum doulas is to have you feel super confident in baby care by the time we leave – unless you want us to do everything, postpartum doulas can do it all. We tend to teach, [for example], if you’re a first-time parent and have never diapered a baby or bathed a baby, we’ll show you how to do umbilical cord care.

Postpartum doulas are experts [on] babies and the kind of healing and recovery care that a new mom or new parent really needs as they move through that transition. A lot of people aren’t familiar with the term doula or postpartum doula, translated from Greek [it means], a person who serves. It’s not really the correct definition, but it’s the translation that has come into being. When you bring a postpartum doula into your home, it’s almost like you’re re-creating that village; the family member that you would have had in the past who’s not only knowledgeable about babies and recovery but a caring person [with] whom you can sit and process the experience of becoming a parent. You can really talk about that with them.

Postpartum doulas tend to come on average for a four to eight-hour shift in a day. They do, do overnights, which is something people don’t realize. There are a lot of postpartum doulas who do overnight care [but] they tend not to do full-time live-in care as frequently as a baby nurse, which is the other term or type of person people sometimes hire. [Still], postpartum doulas can really do it all. They can come randomly and help you for a few hours when you just need support in that way, or they can come for two months and really work with you. They aim to work themselves out of a job so that by the time they’re getting ready to leave, you’re feeling much more confident in parenting, caring for the baby, wearing the baby, feeding [the] baby, and all of that stuff. And you’re like, Yeah, I’ve got this. Ok, I’m good. 

What is the difference between a baby nurse and a doula?

A baby nurse tends to work with families [with] a sole focus [on] the baby; they do baby care, diaper the baby, and change the baby. They can be particularly supportive if you are bottle feeding. Most baby nurses are not particularly trained in lactation or breastfeeding support, so if you are planning to exclusively breastfeed and work with a baby nurse, you want to ask what their lactation training is, be fairly confident that you’ve got [it] down, or bring in a lactation support person to work with the baby nurse [which] can work really well.

The main difference [between a baby nurse and a doula] is that a postpartum doula is more about baby and you care. They care for the baby and the family [and are] trained in how to care for the newborn and [the] recovering birth parent. That is a bit of the difference between [a] baby nurse and postpartum doula. 

[With] baby nurses, you definitely need to have space for them to sleep and provide food and break time. Whereas [a] postpartum doula is all about, How can I help transition you to parenthood? I’ll just find myself a spot on the couch. If you’re doing it overnight, you should have somewhere for them to sleep, but they tend not to need or require their own room in the same way; they are a bit flowier with how they’ll engage with the environment and can help with everything as you transition to parenthood.

How can a postpartum doula help when you are adding to your family?

Preparing to have your second or third baby is really different [from] preparing to have your first baby. A lot of people will talk about how the pregnancy passed them right by because they’re caring for their little one who is here, and they don’t get the same amount of time to focus on the pregnancy. As you’re starting to think about how you’re going to transition to having another child in [your] home and [asking yourself] “[how] can I keep my little bubble around me with [the] baby?” there are a couple of things you can think about. For one, if there is a partner in the household, recognizing that there’s going to be some division of who’s spending time [with the older child]. Often the partner will be spending more time in the beginning, as you are going back into [the] cocoon of taking care of the baby. Note that that can bring up some issues for the older children where all of a sudden, they’re not getting the same amount of time with mom or the birthing parent. Can you find [time] – within a few weeks [of delivery] when you’re ready to get up and [move] around – to take the older child or both of them (if you have more than one at different points) – even for forty-five minutes alone with them – to grab their favorite croissant or juice at a place around the corner? Just something that you’re doing alone with them when you’re ready [can] be really nice to bond with the older child.

[Another] thing you [can do is] show [the] older children baby pictures of what you did with them as a baby, so they know [you are] doing this now with [their] little sibling. I did this with you, kind of [shows] them some of those strategies in terms of your postpartum support and care. Can they be helpful to you? Can we think while we’re pregnant about what kind of little mini assignments we can give our older children to help when the new baby is here? [For example] if you need your postpartum herbs, [that means] you’re [going to] go do a sitz bath and soak your vagina [to] help [you] feel a little better. Can they be the one to pour the herbs into the bowl? Not the boiling water, but what can they do to help? If you need some hemorrhoid sitz pads, can they go get that for you? Incorporating the older one in ways that can be super helpful, that can actually give you a little less to do because a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old can go get a diaper and help in small ways.

I think being prepared that you might have mixed feelings towards your older children and knowing that that’s normal. That you may feel – because some older children want a lot of attention and might want to nurse again and might feel anger toward the baby – that all of those things are normal and can come up. You’re allowed to even say to a friend, I miss my 3-year-old, and now they’re acting mean toward the baby, and I’m feeling these different complex feelings. I think normalizing the complexity of the feelings can be really, really helpful.

Postpartum doulas are wonderful for people having their second or third bab[ies]. And very frequently, it’s the first time they will seek postpartum care. They didn’t seek postpartum care the first time, and it may have been a challenge and hard to get through. They know, oh my God, I now not only have my newborn [but] I have my older child or children. The postpartum doula is well equipped to take care of the older child because sometimes, you just need to be alone with the baby. Things are going fine. Maybe the partner needs to sleep or go to work, and you need somebody who’s really going to engage with that older child. Postpartum doulas frequently come in for families expecting another baby, and it can be super helpful.

Watch the full interview with Jada Shapiro here!

Jada Shapiro is a maternal healthcare expert and the founder of Boober, a marketplace which quickly connects expectant & new parents to IN-PERSON, on-demand pregnancy to postpartum care providers. She specializes in pregnancy, birth and postpartum and is a birth/postpartum doula, childbirth educator, lactation counselor, birth photographer, and mother.

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