Throughout your pregnancy, you daydream about life with your baby, you research items for your registry, and you plan for the big event itself — childbirth. After many grueling hours of labor, you may or may not be surprised at just how exhausted you are, both mentally and physically.

A postpartum doula can provide support in the delicate time after your baby is born. Here’s more about what a postpartum doula does, the benefits of this type of service, and how you can find a doula in your area.

Whether this is your first or sixth baby, the postpartum period is a major time of transition for you, your body, and — well — your whole family. This period of time is often called the fourth trimester, and for good reason!

Whereas a birth doula provides support during the actual labor and birth, a postpartum doula provides non-medical support in these important days and weeks following delivery.

This support is emotional and physical, as well as informational. And while the doula does help with infant care, her primary focus is on the mother and her family. The International Childbirth Education Association describes the role as “mothering the mother.”

Certifications for postpartum doulas

Many doulas — whether birth or postpartum — complete training and certification programs before practicing. While programs can be done online or through self-study, there’s usually some type of in-person training involved.

Other requirements include things like completing required reading, becoming certified in CPR, and finishing training in a reasonable amount of time. Doulas also engage in continuing education to keep their skills and knowledge fresh.

So rest assured, you’re in good hands.

The question might better be posed: What doesn’t a postpartum doula do?

And what one doula does for one mom may differ from what they do for another. At the most basic level, postpartum doulas can provide support and information about infant feeding practices — like breastfeeding — as well as tips and tricks for calming your newborn and dealing with all those new parenting responsibilities.

Natalie Warner Gibbs, mom of three, shares: “I had a doula make me capsules of my placenta, which she had picked up at the hospital and hand-delivered back to my house during recovery. The doula also arrived at my house with a print of my placenta and a cord keepsake.” (A placenta print is an imprint of your placenta on a piece of paper.)

Placenta encapsulation is just one of many services a postpartum doula might provide. “I couldn’t get my pills fast enough,” says Warner Gibbs. “I knew they would help regulate my hormones and jitters.” (The science is inconclusive, but anecdotally, many people find such pills helpful.)

A postpartum doula can also help with your physical or emotional recovery during the fourth trimester. If you needed extra help in these areas, your doula is also a great resource for finding the right places to get what you need.

Other areas of support include:

  • doing light housework (tidying, vacuuming, etc.)
  • making meals
  • providing evidence-based information on all things newborn/postpartum
  • promoting self-care
  • advocating for the mother
  • helping siblings adjust
  • referring to additional support in all topics baby/mom

Postpartum doulas don’t do things like offer medical advice, provide medical care, or speak for the mother or family on any medical matters. Instead, the doula provides the information, resources, and support. If they can’t help you, they can help you find someone who can.

Related: Supporting new moms with “4th trimester care” could save lives

Exactly how much you’ll spend for postpartum doula services depends on where you live and what services you’re looking to get.

Generally speaking, the International Doula Institute reports that most doulas charge between $35 and $65 per hour in larger cities and between $25 and $35 in smaller areas.

For example: Beth Bejnarowicz is a postpartum doula in Lake Zurich, Illinois. She charges $40 per hour with a minimum of 10 hours total.

DONA International shares that some doulas are part of agencies while others are directly hired by parents. How much your doula costs will have to do with the amount of time and time of day. Some doulas offer full days or part-time hours. Others offer overnight and even weekend care. Prices vary accordingly.

Don’t hesitate to ask about your doula’s rates. If you’re concerned about cost, you may want to ask about sliding scale options or potential third party insurance programs. Some people are able to get doula services through community organizations or even grants.

“I didn’t expect to use our doula postpartum, but I was open to it,” explains Amy Risher, mom of a 5-week-old, who gave birth recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. “What I also didn’t expect was really needing a community during isolation.”

“Our doula became that connection herself,” Risher says. “She answered questions I would have asked my mom friends and cheered and encouraged me the way my mom does. And she did her best to connect her clients and foster a community of new mothers.”

Along with fostering connection in a season of life that can feel quite isolating, there are some other benefits to having a postpartum doula.

Breastfeeding success

There’s at least one case study that focused on a community volunteer postpartum doula program and its impact on breastfeeding with favorable results.

In another study, women who received doula intervention prior to giving birth and during the postpartum period were more likely to breastfeed their infants, at least initially.

Though more research is needed, additional information on this topic suggests that moms who have postpartum doulas have a higher satisfaction with breastfeeding and may even continue the nursing relationship longer.

Mental health

Postpartum depression impacts 1 out of 8 new moms. Risk factors include things like having:

  • a history of depression or postpartum depression
  • excess stress in your life
  • not enough of a support network
  • difficulty with breastfeeding
  • multiples or a baby with special needs

A postpartum doula is a key person to have in your support network — easing some stress and empowering you in other ways.

Beyond that, a postpartum doula can also identify early signs of depression and give you resources so you get the help you need as soon as possible.

Other areas

Portland-based doula group ABC Doula shares that there are even more potential benefits of postpartum doula care. They include things like being able to pump more milk resulting from higher oxytocin levels (a benefit from having a support system). Moms may feel more confidence with their abilities and instincts.

And dads? They, too, can learn infant care skills much faster with some expert help.

Families who have doula help may be able to better understand the communication and needs of the new baby, which means — you guessed it — less crying.

Related: Help! My baby won’t stop crying!

Baby nurses provide in-home care for newborns during the postpartum period. They may be either licensed nurses or laypersons. Some even work with babies who have special needs. Whatever the case, a baby nurse’s primary goal is to take care of the baby’s needs.

Postpartum doulas, on the other hand, are mostly focused on the mother, partner, and overall family. While doulas do provide care for babies, their primary goal is to support the emotions of the mother and provide different expertise and infant education to parents.

Both roles are important — it’s just a matter of the type of support you need.

Ask around. Your friends, family, or doctor/midwife may know of a doula or doula service in your area. There are also a variety of resources you can find online for doulas of all sorts.

You might also try searching association websites like DONA International, the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA), and the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA).

Interview tips

When interviewing potential doulas, consider asking:

  • What do you like about being a postpartum doula?
  • What services do you provide in the postpartum period?
  • How would you support my partner/family in the postpartum period?
  • Are you available around the time of year that I am due?
  • What services are included in your fee? What services cost extra?
  • Do you have any experience or training in postpartum mental health?
  • What experience do you have with infant feeding, like breastfeeding?
  • Do you have any restrictions that I should know about?

Don’t feel pressure to hire the first doula you meet. Consider the answers to the questions and the confidence you see in the person.

While it’s a little woo-woo, also go by how you and your partner feel. If you feel any sort of connection, non-judgement, or excitement — those are good signs that you’ve found the one.

Related: Everything you need to know about caring for a newborn baby

A postpartum doula can be an invaluable person to have in your corner when your baby arrives.

“It’s been a lifesaver to be postpartum with a doula,” explains Risher. “Having the doula provided so much relief for my postpartum healing, too. I encourage other mothers to utilize doulas, pandemic or no pandemic.”

Whatever path you choose, be sure to think ahead about surrounding yourself with support during the transition to becoming a new mom.