benefits of holistic doula and postpartum care

You might be wondering if you really need a doula. Or, maybe you've heard of doulas. Perhaps your sister had one, but you're not sure what exactly a doula does and if having one would be helpful for you. This post is to help you learn the basics of what doula care entails, and the benefits of doula care for birth.

Postpartum care is an equally important need that often goes unmet. Because traditional postpartum care is just beginning to be reintroduced in the mainstream of the United States, you may never have heard about traditional postpartum care. Or maybe you have but you aren't really sure what the reasoning behind these practices is. This post will lay out of the basics of how traditional postpartum care meets your physiological needs after baby is born.

How do doulas help during birth?

There is a strong evidence base to tell us that mothers/parents who have a trained doula present at birth are likely to have:
  • a more satisfying birth experience
  • shorter labor 
  • less unwanted medical intervention (including medication and cesarean birth) 
  • a baby who's apgar score is not low at five minutes 

More details about these benefits as well as a great description of the role of a birth doula can be found in this informative Midwifery Today article by Penny Simkin. 

How, exactly does a doula do this? The most accurate answer to this is that it depends on the birthing individual's specific needs at the time of birth as the process unfolds. This might look like holding your hands and breathing with you during each contraction, or keeping the room warm and your glass of water full while your partner holds you during contractions. Doula support tends to change during labor and your needs, state of mind, and sensitivity shift through the process. Doulas do things like: 
  • give soothing touch
  • offer reassuring words--to let you know how strong and amazing you are
  • help you find comfortable and productive labor positions
  • keep the room comfortable by adjusting lighting, temperature and the like
  • communicating with friends and family about when its helpful for them to be present with you (or not present as the case may be)
  • answer questions about things that come up during labor
  • remind you and guide you through your coping strategies and help find new ones when those aren't working
  • stay with you continuously through labor and birth, even if you have an unexpected procedure or decide to transfer to a hospital from an out of hospital birth

All of these help to create an environment where you feel supported, safe, open and ready to let go into the flow of birth. In this state your body can make all the hormones, like oxytocin, to keep your labor flowing smoothly. 

What about postpartum?

During the postpartum your body is going through an enormous adjustment from pregnant to non-pregnant physiology and also making the adjustment to breastfeeding/chestfeeding at the same time. Having caring support, from a knowledgable and familiar person, will help you recover more quickly and fully from birth.

In the postpartum, your body actually relies on the same hormones for healing that were present during birth. Having warmth, companionship, good foods, healing touch, closeness with baby, and rest are all parts of keeping the oxytocin flowing during this time. Traditional postpartum care around the world is based in meeting these needs, and often comes from families and close friends where you already have a strong relationship.

Oxytocin allows your uterus to contract during birth to bring baby into the world, but also is responsible for bringing the uterus back to non-pregnant size and shape. With the uterus comes all of the ligaments and connective tissue that surround it, all of which need to be in the proper position to allow your digestive, urinary, and reproductive organs to function in a healthy way after birth. If this fails to happen, it can develop into chronic health problems that are too common among mothers/birth parents today.  

Even when we find ourselves in situations where traditional postpartum care isn't currently the norm, postpartum physiology and postpartum needs remain the same. Often, in the modern setting, our loved ones live far away or have their own demanding lives to keep up with and can't be with us for the duration of the postpartum recovery. This is where having a postpartum care provider can be very helpful, especially when the care is coming from someone who you already know and feel comfortable with. 

Because the methods of care aren't widely practiced having a postpartum care provider to guide you is important even when you have lots of family and community support. 

During birth your mind and spirit have undergone an incredible transition and talking about your birth experience helps you integrate your new identity and feel ease coming back into your daily life. A trained postpartum care practitioner can help you through this process because they are familiar with the complexity of birth and, especially if they were present at your birth, can offer insight that helps you understand and appreciate your experience.

What is a holistic doula?

A holistic doula is someone who comes to birth with an expanded understanding of how birth is a life experience, and as such brings growth and changes on every level of your life. In holistic doula care, there is no aspect of your experience that needs to be left out. 

The approach to birth is one that appreciates that you are a complex and multidimensional person with a unique set of experiences, beliefs, strengths and concerns that will come into play in one way or another when you birth. A holistic doula will meet you where you are at in your life and your childbearing process. 

Holistic doula care is based in nourishing you as a mother/parent in the ways that are most important as you as an individual to feel fully supported. This means that you take an active role in collaborating with your doula about your support needs and are given a strong voice in your care to figure out what it is you need and to ask for it. 

A holistic approach also means that you doula support can look very different from one person to another. One person may want to discuss a lot of information in detail and want a long reading list of the most up-to-date and rigorously researched books on childbearing and another may want to spend time practicing coping techniques, or making birth art.  

Holistic doula care supports you in preparing and experiencing birth in an integrated way so that you feel cared for and supported in all levels of your well-being.