What Is a Postpartum Doula? And Why You Might Want to Hire One

An older woman smiles at a newborn as the mom looks on.

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There was a point about two weeks into having my newborn home that I realized I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had read all the books, made all the checklists, and bought all the online classes—but I still felt like I was failing myself and my new baby, who had a hard time latching and who would sleep for only 20 minutes at a time. I remember feeling so frustrated that my baby would not get into the program that I had carefully researched for her. I remember crying to a friend, who offered one simple sentence that helped turn my entire postpartum experience around: “Call my postpartum doula.” 

A doula is a non-medical professional who is there to emotionally and physically support the family before, during, and after birth. Doulas as a concept have been around since the beginning of childbirth, but they became really popular in the 1980s. A postpartum doula is one who specifically helps families during the often difficult newborn phase, which might be especially overwhelming as the family transitions to a new stage of life. 

We spoke to parents who have used postpartum doulas and postpartum doulas themselves to find out exactly what functions they can serve for a family, why you should consider hiring one, and how to find one near you.

What Does a Postpartum Doula Do?

The role of a postpartum doula includes educating and supporting the entire family on the new addition, from hands-on help to education. “A postpartum doula is someone who has expertise in maternal postnatal recovery as well as infant care, feeding, and development. They are trained to support families as they adjust to postpartum life whether it’s the first or fourth baby,” says Rina Brulé, a certified postpartum doula with Figgi Family, a virtual doula service.

It’s just as important—or perhaps more important—to consider a postpartum doula as it is a labor and delivery one, adds Tia Dowling-Ketant, founder of Brooklyn-based Me Too Doula: “Preparing for birth is very exciting, but it’s also important to have a plan of action postpartum.” These duties usually fall into three categories: helping mom or the birthing parent, helping the baby, and helping the rest of the family. 

Helping Baby

Helping your newborn usually falls into two categories: feeding and sleeping. Postpartum doulas can help with basic feeding, such as preparing bottles, helping the parent determine a comfortable breastfeeding position for middle-of-the-night feedings, and more. However, if a parent is having troubles with breastfeeding, they should seek additional support from a lactation consultant. Doula support also means offering sleep schedules, and tried-and-true hacks for settling and soothing a baby.

Since postpartum doulas have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to newborns from professional training and on-the-job training, they will know what is outside the normal range for eating and sleeping and help you adjust accordingly.

Stephanie Davis Smith, an Atlanta-based mom of two, was having breastfeeding trouble with her firstborn and knew she needed to get him on a feeding and sleeping schedule. “I was very worried about breastfeeding and I wasn’t doing well,” she says, so she called in a postpartum doula to help.

Davis Smith had also gotten a ton of gifts and gear in preparation for her baby, but her doula came in and looked at everything she had bought and gifted and immediately knew what was going to be helpful and what was not going to be. “She made a pile of everything I would never use, and she was right. I returned it all and got a gift card for diapers, which is what I ended up needing the most,” she says. 

Helping Mom

Brulé notes that helping the birthing parent is just as important as baby, through both emotional and physical recovery. “We provide companionship and non-judgmental support,” she says. That could mean everything from holding the baby while the parent showers or naps or helping seek out treatment for postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. 

They can also help with tactical education, such as newborn care—how to bathe your newborn, or how to babywear, for example—and advocating for yourself and your baby. (My postpartum doula helped me stand up to the pediatrician, who dismissed my baby as having colic. She did not, in fact, have colic.) 

Helping the Family 

Remember, the postpartum doula is there to support the entire family unit through a major life transition. That could mean helping manage expectations, schedules, or visitors.

“We help the entire family adjust to the new baby and dynamics, including parents, siblings, and pets,” Brulé says. “We can manage family members. We are there to support you. We can help guide some of the unexpectedness and help normalize the experience [of having a newborn]. I want to equip my families to eventually be able to do it on their own.” 

Additional Support Postpartum Doulas Can Provide

  • Household organization
  • Light meal prep
  • Transitioning back to work
  • Supplemental shopping suggestions, such as gear

Benefits of a Postpartum Doula

Isolation and loneliness are real issues for new parents, and Brulé attributes this to the lack of knowledge being passed down from generation to generation and the lack of community support. “Postpartum families are faced with short parental leave options, limited community support, messages from social media that don’t show the whole picture, intense pressure to parent perfectly, and so many other challenges,” she says. 

Brulé adds that postpartum doulas can help alleviate some of the stress new parents face in the early months of having a baby. Additionally, they provide another pair of hands and support you and your family can count on to ease transition periods.

“Research has shown that the more support families receive while postpartum, the better they adjust to their ‘new normal,’” Brulé says. “People with more postpartum support have greater breastfeeding success, greater self-confidence, less postpartum depression, and a lower incidence of abuse than those who do not.”

How to Find a Postpartum Doula

There are a few ways you can go about finding a postpartum doula. The first is to look for recommendations from your OB/GYN, lactation consultant, therapist, or other trusted professional source. There are also websites such as Doula Match which will perform searches for you. You can also do a simple search online. The most popular way, however, is still word of mouth. Reach out to friends and family to see who they used.  

Whoever you hire, you’ll want to make sure they are certified. “Finding a certified postpartum doula is one way of ensuring that they have completed sufficient training. There are many certifying bodies such as DONA, CAPPA, Doula Trainings International, Madriella, BEST, and Childbirth International,” Brulé says. Once you have a few recommendations, there are further considerations, such as cost and what characteristics you want in a doula.  

How Much a Postpartum Doula Costs 

The cost of a postpartum doula depends on a lot of factors, including whether or not they are virtual or in-person; how long you want them for; and what additional care they might provide, such as meal prep. Services can start around $30 per hour and increase from there, Dowling-Ketant says.

“Everyone deserves postpartum support, although it remains out of reach financially for many families. Like many other services, postpartum support is now available virtually and is far more affordable than in-person support," says Brulé,

What to Look for in a Postpartum Doula 

You want your doula to not only be an educated and informed professional, but also a good fit for your family. “A doula should be a good listener, support your decisions without judgment, have experience with a variety of infant feeding scenarios, and be someone you feel comfortable sharing your space with during a vulnerable time,” Brulé says. They should also be able to further refer you to specialists if needed. 

When talking to doulas, it’s important to take your family’s specific needs and your wishes into account. Tabitha Tune, a mom of one based in Nashville, Tenn, says, “I needed someone to support me while I navigated having a new baby. I needed them to be open to also implementing a lot of the Chinese confinement traditions with food called zhuô yuè zi. I found one who did and I’ve since recommended her to other friends. If I could have another baby, I would hire her again, no question.” 

Every parent has different preferences for what their postpartum doula is like and is supportive of. "I wanted someone who didn’t judge men and was helpful without being too strict or scary," Davis Smith says. "Some of the consultants at the hospital were too judgemental and made me upset when it was the last thing I needed.” She looked for, and found these qualities, in her doula. 

Dowling-Kent says that feeling connected to your doula is as important as their technical knowledge. “That’s what doula support is really all about. A lot of doulas know a lot of things. What you really need is to feel comfortable and connected.” 

Differences Between a Postpartum Doula and a Baby Nurse

One distinction that needs to be made is between a postpartum doula and a baby nurse. “A baby nurse typically serves as a nanny or primary caregiver for the baby,” Brulé says. While there can be some overlap with skillsets in doulas, Dowling-Kent is emphatic that the doula cares for the whole family, not just the baby. “I’m concerned about everyone when I’m going for my visits,” she says. 

Brulé puts it succinctly: “The goal of a postpartum doula is to work herself out of a job by providing education, training, support, the development of household/family systems, and validation in order to build the confidence and capacity of the parents.” 

A Word From Verywell

A postpartum doula can be an effective way to check in on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of an entire family, not just the baby. They can pass on knowledge they have culled helping countless families adjust to the transition of a new addition. A credentialed postpartum doula can be a guide through a transitional time to ultimately set your family up for success in the long run.

2 Sources
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  1. Dona International. What is a doula?

  2. The Postpartum Doula's Role in Maternity Care, Dona International.