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  • Writer's pictureHampshire Birthing

What Does a Postnatal Doula Do?

Janet Gray has been working with families since 1991, when she qualified from Norland College. Following a variety of family-based roles, setting up her own baby food business and having her own family, Janet is now an NCT Teacher, Yoga and Baby Massage Instructor while also maintaining her long-held passion as a Postnatal Doula.

Aware a lot of people are unsure of the role of a Postnatal Doula, Janet kindly agreed to answer some of the most common questions I hear:

What is the role of a postnatal doula?

The role of the postnatal doula is to work in the private home once the baby is born and support both parents, although predominantly the mother, to settle into their new roles of parenthood or when a family is having subsequent babies. The word ‘doula’ pronounced ‘doo-la’ means "to mother the mother so the mother can mother her baby”.

I always describe myself as having your mother/mother-in-law/best friend around to support and guide you at a really vulnerable time in life as well as keeping the household running, seeing things to be done but not needing to be asked to do them. By having these extra set of hands to keep the home ticking along, allows the parents time to focus on their baby and settle into the fourth trimester, as well as reassuring/answering questions during the transition to parenthood.

What sort of training is involved in becoming a postnatal doula?

There are lots of different companies who provide training to become a birth or postnatal doula, some training lasting a few days and others a few months before qualification. Some postnatal doulas don’t have specific training but have become postnatal doulas through experience from previous jobs or parenting themselves. There is no particular regulation for doula training although there is DoulaUK which provides a register of doulas who have chosen to pay to join DoulaUK and parents can seek local doulas in their area through the website.

I would always suggest to parents who are thinking of employing a postnatal doula to meet with the doula a few times before the birth so you know each other, as the early weeks and months of parenthood are very intimate therefore the importance of feeling comfortable with this person supporting you in your house is paramount. It is not always the most highly trained doula that is suitable to work with you, it has to be a combination of training/experience and personality.

What hours do postnatal doulas cover?

Every postnatal doula works differently and usually, it depends on what is going on in their life as to the hours they offer support. Some doulas will support any number of hours between Monday to Friday 9-3 pm and others will support any day of the week and any time of the day. Most doulas will have a minimum number of hours per session and some have a minimum length of stay. It is one of the most difficult things for families and doulas to get a happy balance in advance of the baby arriving as families don’t always know what support they need until their baby has arrived.

How long do parents hire a postnatal doula for?

This question is like how long is a piece of string annoyingly. Some families will have a doula just once or twice a week for 3 or 4 weeks and other families will employ a doula 4 or 5 times a week, slowly weaning off the support over a period of 6 months. Again this is one of the tricky areas of managing a doula diary. Every baby is different and you don’t know what the baby is going to be like or how the mother is going to cope with the transition to motherhood until they are both in the middle of it - no matter how much preparation is done. Therefore having an open-ended agreement is how I find my diary works best. However, this does mean I never know from one month to the next where I will be working so I have to stay calm and do some long slow breathing when my diary is both manic and quiet!!

What should you look for when hiring a postnatal doula?

One of the most important things to think about when employing a postnatal doula is how you feel when in their company. For first-time parents it is such an emotional rollercoaster the transition into parenting, it is so important that the parents feel relaxed with the person who is going to be supporting them in the early weeks of the parental transition. For families employing a doula to support for a second baby or more, the doula needs to have a connection with the other child(ren) for the relationship to work.

Listening to your gut instinct is key when employing a doula and it is not always about qualifications (although these can be important) but it is how the doula can or will fit into your family life. Every family wants a different aspect from a doula (although copious amounts of laundry seems to come with all families!) so it is having the ability to feel comfortable to ask the doula to do anything within the boundaries of her service.

Will a postnatal doula give advice?

Once again every doula is different so I can only talk from my service on this area. I try to always give suggestions of different ways to do everything with a baby whether it is feeding, sleeping, settling, bathing, comforting etc so the parents are able to decide what to do with their baby. My time with the family is to ensure they are confident with their baby so when I leave they do not feel an enormous gap in their life because they have been doing everything with my guidance there for them to fall upon as and when they feel they need it.

Will a postnatal doula work to my style of parenting?

Yes, all doulas should work with the family enabling the parents to make decisions, care for their baby and look after themselves how the parents wish to do it. It is not for me to tell anyone how to bring up their family.

How do I know if hiring a postnatal doula is the right thing for me?

This sometimes can be a difficult decision as until you are in the throes of parenthood some couples don’t know or don’t realise the benefits of a doula. Every family is going to be different so it is important to sit down as a couple, or mother before your baby has arrived and work out what support you have locally to you. If there are family or friends who are going to be helpful in the early weeks - ie cooking dinner, doing a wash, folding laundry and putting it away, emptying the dishwasher, running the hover around the floor, collecting other children from nursery/school, taking the dog for a walk, collect groceries for you, be a good listener, not put their own prejudices on you, help settle the baby for you, hold the baby while you have a shower/nap - then maybe you don’t need a postnatal doula, maybe a cleaner would be a good option as help around the house. Otherwise the old saying “it takes a village to raise a family” is never truer when you are at home on your own with no help at all.

How much does a postnatal doula cost?

Anything from £10-£30 per hour. Some doulas do packages so you can buy a certain package and use it over a certain number of weeks. Depending on the distance from the doulas' house some doulas will ask for fuel money.

"Janet came to help me look after my newborn baby post-c-section. I would so look forward to hearing Janet arrive at the house as she has a very calm, quietly confident and kind manner. She gave me the physical and emotional support that is so important in the early days. Not only is she a fountain of knowledge on all mother and baby areas she was also brilliant with my three year old too. She is like the pied piper with children and Janet would collect him from preschool for me and ensure he felt just as special as his new baby brother. Post-c-section I could not run and play outside and Janet would always make time to play with him outside, go on the trampoline and spend hours playing tractors!

Nothing was ever too much trouble for Janet (trivial or big tasks) and she would always ensure my 3-year-old was fed, children bathed, supper for my husband and I was sorted and the house was tidy before going home. It was invaluable to have her help, care and wisdom for the first few weeks whilst I found my feet post c-section and juggling two little ones at home. Janet fitted into our household so easily and I always enjoyed her company, our chats and her perspective on all areas of family life. My only regret is that newborns do not stay newborns forever and so Janet could not stay indefinitely! " - Eleanor

To speak to Janet and find out more about her services see:

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