Imagine your first baby turns out to be twins. Now imagine one of them is colicky, and you’re breastfeeding around the clock. That was Linda Marzec’s reality. “Because Sarah was so irritable, I couldn’t feed her and Andrew at the same time,” explains Marzec. “So I was breastfeeding about 20 times a day. I was going on maybe one or two hours sleep a day — and that wasn’t in one chunk of time. I guess I was exhausted.”
What Marzec needed was a fairy godmother. But since one wasn’t available, the public health nurse who visited recommended that Marzec hire a postpartum doula and put her in touch with Liza Hagusa of Mother Me, in Vancouver.
“What impressed me about Liza was her ability to quickly assess the babies’ personalities and how they’d respond,” Marzec says. “With Sarah, it’s very important the way you hold her, the way you rock her, and Liza just seemed to have the knack. I could go off and sleep, and she would wake me when they needed to be fed. For me, that was the best gift anyone could give.”
You’ve probably heard about doulas — trained women who provide support during labour and birth. But you may not know that postpartum doulas are available in many communities as well, to help women after their baby has arrived. They may come for a few hours each day to do some laundry, prepare dinner, give you a backrub or help with breastfeeding and baby care. You may even be able to arrange for an overnight shift, to help you get a little more sleep.
“Many women have no family support close by, and they may not have much experience with babies,” Hagusa says. “The doula’s role is mothering the mother, providing that non-judgmental support.”
And mothering is definitely what most new mothers need. Nicole Oliver decided on a postpartum doula to help her get through the early weeks of parenthood. “I don’t have any family here, and my husband and I are pretty much on our own,” she comments. “My little boy, William, was born on August 3 , and our doula came the next day when we got home.”
That first day could have been a disaster, Oliver says. “I have two cats, and one got diarrhea and it was all over the house, and I was trying to figure out how to breastfeed, and my husband, Chris, was frantically working away in his home office on a project that was due in two days. And here’s our doula, cleaning up the cat poo everywhere, cleaning up the cats, making me lunch, drawing me a bath, helping me with breastfeeding…it was just incredible.”
When William was four weeks old, Oliver’s husband had to leave town for four days, so she arranged for her doula to stay overnight. “When Will woke up, she got him and came in and woke me, literally put him on my breast and, when he was done nursing, she removed him, gave me some orange juice to drink, and told me to go back to sleep. She took Will, burped him, changed him and got him relaxed so he could sleep too,” says Oliver. “I actually got to sleep almost all night.”
[Hiring a doula] could be a great gift from grandparents or other relatives who want to help out the new parents.
In some communities, there are other options. Halifax has a unique volunteer doula program, funded by a partnership of several organizations, and has trained about 150 women to support new parents. As you might expect, the number of requests for doulas exceeds the program’s capacity. In other communities, public health nurses may be able to help a mother find a doula who is willing to donate her services or provide them at a reduced cost.
Nicole Oliver feels the doula support she received was worth every penny. In fact, when she was eight weeks pregnant with her second baby, she called to book another postpartum doula. Now that’s a pretty convincing testimonial.
Learn how a postpartum doula can help mothers and families have a more positive postnatal experience.
Support for new moms when they need it the most
Originally published in Today’s Parent, September 2005