What is a Postpartum Doula and Do I Need One?

I had an extremely medicalized, heavily monitored pregnancy and C-section, and because of that (and, you know, COVID) I never really considered the option of finding a doula to help support me at the end of my pregnancy. I think that’s probably why I’d never even heard of a postpartum doula.

That was, until my husband and I got home with our tiny, five-pound bundle and quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be able to heal and recover from the C-section and its subsequent complications, as well as care for a newborn, without getting some kind of help. Instagram might show women walking around, looking great after this major abdominal surgery, but they are the lucky minority. I had a slow and very laborious recovery: I found it really hard to move around, painful to get into any position to breastfeed, and my incision reopened and had to be cauterized closed at my two-week check up. Even standing under the shower each day to keep my wound clean felt like mission impossible.

I would love to see my husband’s search history when it came to finding at-home help for a new mom, but he somehow stumbled across Rooted Birth, a doula collective offering postpartum services in San Antonio. Though I was really struggling, it took me a little while to warm up to the idea of having someone come in and help me care for my son. Maybe it was my pride. As first-time moms, we often feel we should be doing it all, managing well, and getting back to “normal.” The transition of going from an easygoing, fun-loving couple to a family of three is especially difficult because literally everything gets turned completely upside down. Suddenly, you—and each other—aren’t your priority anymore. For a while, nothing feels normal and you wonder how you’ll ever adjust. Like many couples, my husband and I struggled under the weight of sleep deprivation with a newborn, but we also had a raft of health issues to wade through, too.

Ultimately, admitting that I needed help to make it through my “fourth trimester” was the best thing I could have ever done.

What is a Postpartum Doula?

Like their birth counterparts, postpartum doulas provide families with emotional and physical support—but they do so at home, after the birth has happened. They offer impartial information about feeding, support, and advice for new parents who are navigating a huge life change, and help for older children as they adjust to their new sibling(s). Most importantly, they take care of moms and their babies.

Postpartum doulas work days and nights, or a combination of both if that works for your family. Moms with older children would especially benefit from daytime help, as they can soak in the newborn haze and rest knowing that their older kids are being kept busy and happy. As my husband works from home and was reliably around during the day to help, we chose to have a doula come in overnight, a few times a week, so that we could get some rest.

I remember the first night we had Megan come into our home. I was a little nervous (My house looked like a bomb had gone off in the dining room… Thanks, Amazon, for always being there in the middle of the night for new parents whose baby arrived ahead of schedule!) but mostly just totally exhausted and in pain. I hadn’t felt confident taking my prescription painkillers since leaving the hospital, because although I really needed them, they made me feel so out of it that I hadn’t taken them for fear that I wouldn’t wake up and hear my son’s cries. That night, I was able to get some good stretches of 2–2.5 hours sleep, relatively pain-free, and just worry about nursing (and night sweats!) rather than diaper changes, burping, and swaddling. Mostly, the next morning, I felt a sense of grateful relief that we weren’t alone.

The things they don’t tell you about the postpartum period could easily fill another post, but there were so many ways I couldn’t have made it through those first weeks without the help of a postpartum doula. From talking about bleeding and wound care to washing and folding endless piles of baby laundry; cleaning breast pump parts and writing lists of meals and snacks to encourage me to eat properly when I had zero appetite; offering advice (and sympathy) when I got mastitis; and rocking my son for hours overnight while I got a few precious hours of sleep… the list could really go on and on. I’ll never forget how instrumental my postpartum doulas were in helping us work through my son’s reflux (So many hours of winding and holding him upright!), uncovering his tongue and lip ties, and advocating for the continuation of our breastfeeding journey when everyone else suggested we do otherwise.

While I think everyone could benefit from this kind of help, for the mom without her village, practical support is a real necessity. Though I’d always imagined having my mom and sister with me in those weeks after birth, COVID made that impossible. Having someone to rely on, talk with, and cry to in the middle of the night made a huge difference in how supported I felt during my fourth trimester. Whether they are first- or fourth-time moms, women who have just given birth need mothering and nurturing too. Most importantly, they need women—fellow mothers—who have been down the road they are starting to travel and can tell them that everything is going to be all right.

So Do I Need One?

So to answer my own question—do I need a postpartum doula? I guess the answer is complex because it’s an additional cost in those early weeks post-birth when at least one of you isn’t working. But if you can afford it, then I can say that it is absolutely, 100% worth it. However you gave birth, and however you are feeding your baby, you need time and space to rest, recover, and heal from your experience, physically and mentally. A postpartum doula can help create that space in the total chaos of life with a new baby.

It takes an incredibly special person to come into someone’s home, knowing they are vulnerable and in pain, and help them take care of the most precious thing in their life. I don’t know if I could ever say how much I appreciate and owe these real-life angels, but I can certainly try.

So for each hour spent rocking and every middle of the night pep talk, changed diaper, folded towel, cleaned floor, and tear wiped… from the bottom of my heart—thank you.

Natalie is a proud Brit, but moved to Texas at the end of 2017 to be with her husband, a native San Antonian. Their son was born in late October 2020, so her entire experience of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum has been under the cloud of Covid-19. She spent the frivolous years of her early 20s pursuing a PhD in Renaissance history, living in Venice, Italy, and teaching students. She pivoted into editing when she moved to the US, but currently has her academic pursuits on hold while she focuses on her son. Despite being in San Antonio for a few years now, she still considers herself a newbie. She loves to find out more about the history and culture of the city, explore new places, and find local businesses to support. A fastidious researcher and lover of lists, she’s always excited to share her finds and experiences with others. Favorite Restaurant: Dough Favorite Landmark: World’s Largest Cowboy Boots Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Riverwalk Christmas Lights