The first few days and weeks after labour can be a difficult and challenging time for a new family. Many people focus on pregnancy, labour and birth and don’t think about what happens once the new baby is born. This blog post has been added to discuss a few of the issues, challenges and parenting styles which new parents may experience. It is not meant in any way to be a complete guide to life after birth!
“Many women experience a sense of euphoria during the first few days following birth, fuelling a bout of physical energy that is brought to a standstill as the “baby blues” kick in around day four – when you can weep at the slightest cause or contradiction for 24 hours – then a gradual settling into the more day-to-day rhythm of life.” (Stockton, 2008)
If birth has been a traumatic experience this can affect the mother in many ways, including finding difficulties with bonding and breastfeeding. The presence of a doula immediately after birth can help establish a good settling-in routine for the mother and baby, as well as supporting the partner in his/her new role as caregiver to the new baby. Whether at home or in hospital, skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby should be encouraged soon after birth. This close contact helps the release of hormones to encourage milk production; warms the baby; soothes the baby after their journey into the world, by hearing the familiar sound of the mothers’ voice and heartbeat; and continuously develops the bond between mother and baby. A doula may help with initiating breastfeeding; if the mother wishes this kind of help (midwives may also be available both at home and in hospital).
A doula who has been present at the birth of a new baby will visit the family once they have returned home. This visit is used as an opportunity to talk about the birth and then discuss any issues the family may be having. Some families may want extended help in the weeks after birth and in these instances a post-partum doula can be hired. Post-partum doulas act as a family support and may do grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, child-minding or any other job which helps the new family to relax and enjoy life. Doulas will come into the household with a list of resources to cover all aspects of life with a new baby – these may include numbers for midwives and health visitors; new parent support groups; breastfeeding helplines; local community support; baby massage; and alternative therapy clinics.
Many new parents feel a need to follow a ‘method’ for raising their child(ren). For some, the use of a book can make parents feel more in control in a world which has been thrown up in the air and the pieces scattered all around. Others can get so tied up in routines and habits that they start to stress that their baby doesn’t ‘do’ what he/she is meant to be doing, doesn’t sleep through the night, doesn’t nap at X time for X amount of time. All families are different and what works for some will not work for others so it is important for a doula to be aware of the many childcare methods that are available to new parents. Some parents believe that the baby should remain in their presence at all time, through the use of a sling, gentle holding and co-sleeping. Others rely on more ‘conventional’ methods such as Gina Ford, Dr. Spock and the Baby Whisperer, which implore parents to use routines and regimes to create the perfect baby. A doula should be aware of the many methods that parents may feel suit their lifestyles and environments best and therefore undertake to follow.
Most new mothers will expect to be able to breastfeed their new baby and for many women it is a rich, fulfilling experience but for others, it can be a challenging, emotional and traumatic time. It is the responsibility of the doula to ensure that a mother gets the physical and emotional support she needs during this time – through speaking with the partner / providing helpline numbers / or just listening to the mothers’ worries and fears. There are many support networks and techniques available to breastfeeding mothers, including National Childcare Trust (NCT), La Leche League, biological nurturing and local breastfeeding groups.
When breastfeeding goes well, it is a wonderful experience for both the mother and the baby. When it goes badly, it can lead to mothers feeling inadequate and like they have ‘failed’ to provide for their baby. A doula should be aware of the many conflicting feelings a woman may be feeling during this time and act appropriately. A woman may just need to be told that she is doing wel9l, or feel like someone understands what she is going through; alternatively, she may be looking for closure, or someone to tell her it is OK that she is not breastfeeding. Psychologically it is a sensitive time for many women and a doula has to be aware of this.
Buckley, S.J., Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. 2009, Berkeley: Celestial Arts. 348.
Liedloff, J., The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost. 1975, London: Penguin. 168.
Lowe, A. and R. Zimmerman, The Doula Guide to Birth: Secrets Every Pregnant Women Should Know. 2009, New York: Bantam Books. 270.
Stockton, A., Birth Space, Safe Place: Emotional Well-Being through Pregnancy and Birth. 2009, Scotland, UK: Findhorn Press. 102.