The Postpartum Doula

In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order-Carl Jung

a sleeping newborn

The Postpartum Period

     Melody, a new mom who had just given birth, described her postpartum experience as difficult:

She had a Cesarean section and described lifting as a challenge. She went on to explain the difficulty of breastfeeding and how she had to rely on other family members to help her with household chores while she battled postpartum depression. 

Melody is just one example of what many women experience after giving birth.

Often described as chaos, the postpartum period deserves reflection.   In the U.S, women are sent home with a newborn just briefly after giving birth. They are expected to care for a completely new human with demanding needs.

Few parents are actually prepared for this new change.   The role of a postpartum doula uniquely fills this void by creating order in the chaos.  A postpartum doula provides referrals, calmly assists parents in caring for their baby, and adds a nurturing touch to a tired household. They are calm, experienced and knowledgeable. 

New parents can glean much knowledge and reassurance from the wisdom of a seasoned postpartum doula.  Women often bond with their doula because her role is similar to a close female relative in traditional cultures.

Postpartum in different Cultures

Different cultures around the world are rich in postpartum tradition. Many have unique traditions for caring for a mother after the birth during the postpartum experience. A common denominator among the cultures is the expectation for a mother to rest and gain strength over a long period of time which is different from the US model where the expectation is a quick recovery and return to a busy and demanding lifestyle. Families and friends in these cultures often unite and provide care through meal preparation, childcare, and household maintenance.  This is a boon for an exhausted family after the birth of a baby. 

     The concept of the postpartum doula was born out of these unique cultural traditions.  It’s important to note that the role of this helper is to provide assistance and care while strengthening families to realize and meet their own needs.  The families gain confidence and knowledge and in turn, shape their own family structures.  According to standards of practice, a postpartum doula’s role is not that of a night nanny, babysitter, or household cleaning service.

The Role of the Postpartum Doula

For example, a postpartum doula does not just come to clean your house. She comes to relieve you while you care for a newborn. If a mother is in need of housecleaning, she should hire a cleaning service.  If a postpartum doula spent her time cleaning your house, she would not be able to provide a listening ear and other resources you might need.

A night nanny does not foster self-determination in a mother. A postpartum doula’s role includes helping the mother embrace her skills as a confident parent. A mother would not be able to grow in her ability to care for her newborn with a night nanny that stays overnight with the baby for an extended time.  

A postpartum doula’s role includes facilitating mother and baby bonding during the postpartum experience and beyond through giving the mother time to spend with her newborn. This can include playing with and occupying other children in the family.  Babysitting is out of the doula’s scope because it does not allow the doula to provide the full range of her services or foster self-determination in the mother.

Benefits of the Postpartum Doula

     According to research, support during the postpartum period reduces the incidence of postpartum depression, increases the parents’ self- confidence, reduces the incidence of abuse, and increases the success of breastfeeding.  

     I chose the above quote on chaos, because I felt it is a good description of what a postpartum doula walks into to assist a family. The beauty of the role of a postpartum doula is helping the mother find her own calm within the chaos. She empowers the mother to find order within herself. The postpartum doula enables the mother to find her own confidence within. When a doula leaves the mothers and families she serves, her goal is to leave them better equipped than she found them. They should feel supported during their postpartum experience. They should receive good resources, feel well adjusted to their family’s household organization, gain confidence in their parenting skills, and appreciate rest through her nurturing touch.


Katie Hadley is a CD(DONA) doula as well a chilbirth educator. Katie has a special interest in health and nutrition in pregnancy. She enjoys working with and educating women about evidence based birth.

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