A mother holds her newborn baby to her chest and smiles.
The period immediately after childbirth, sometimes called the fourth trimester, is critical for new moms and their babies. A postpartum doula can play an essential role early in this period. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Did you know some doulas are trained to work specifically in postpartum care?

We’ve looked at doulas several times in the past to understand the scope of their work. (Even Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, has used a doula.)

A doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth, helping her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible.

If that sounds like an official definition, that’s because it is—it comes from the Doula Organization of North America, one of two organizations that currently certify postpartum doulas. (The other is the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association.)

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant women have a doula involved throughout pregnancy and childbirth, given the multiple studies attesting to the benefits.

But the period after childbirth, sometimes called the fourth trimester, is worth a special look.

A doula can be a critical resource to have on hand for new moms during this sometimes difficult period. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued an advisory opinion directly on this point, recognizing the weeks after birth as a critical time to set the stage for long-term health and well-being for mom and baby.

“To optimize the health of women and infants, postpartum care should become an ongoing process, rather than a single encounter, with services and support tailored to each woman’s individual needs,” the organization noted.

It’s no secret the adjustment period after having a baby can be difficult.

There’s the new addition to your family, taking care of a newborn’s many needs and trying to handle all the postpartum hormone changes. It’s a demanding time.

Most parents I talk to are extremely surprised at the exhaustion and lack of sleep they experience with a new baby.

Make no mistake: Babies demand a lot of time.

But that’s why a postpartum doula can be so helpful. They’re trained in evidence-based practices related to recovery after birth, which can help new moms physically and emotionally.

A doula is knowledgable about infant feeding, soothing and newborn care. They assist with household chores, if mom prefers, or they can connect you to helpful local resources.

Postpartum doula Samantha Greer, who trained with the Doula Organization of North America, said she became a postpartum doula after the birth of her first baby.

“I felt completely supported and informed during pregnancy and delivery, but I felt lost and scared upon discharge,” Greer said. “Coupled with the fact that I wouldn’t see my provider again for six weeks—this was two years ago—that was daunting.”

Like many other women she met, she didn’t have an established support system nearby.

“I wished I had someone educated and informed about the postpartum period that could calm my fears, without overwhelming my child’s pediatrician or my midwife,” she said. “So instead I became that person to fill that void to the women in our area.”

A postpartum doula can help you solve breastfeeding troubles, teach you techniques to soothe a fussy baby and help you understand and manage common postpartum physical challenges.

They can also care for your baby while you take time for a shower or get some rest. They can help with sleep training, household chores and so forth, providing a much-needed hand at critical moments.

Just keep in mind that a doula is not a medical provider.

They typically help in the first few days after a new baby is born and they remain on board for at least a few weeks.

Spectrum Health Healthier Communities also provides postpartum emotional support groups and breastfeeding support groups. In West Michigan, there’s also Momsbloom.org, which offers free in-home support to moms in the postpartum period.