Day in the Life of a Postpartum Doula

by: Cat Ennis Sears

What do postpartum doulas do? You can read about the benefits here and if you’re interested in becoming one, there is a great training coming to Richmond in November. (early bird rate expires on September 25!) But what might a typical 3-4 hour shift look like?

This entry describes a typical four hour day shift in the life of a postpartum doula. Overnights are different! Stay tuned for "Night in the Life of a Postpartum Doula."

*This is a fictional client to protect privacy.*

My client’s baby is two weeks old and she has two older girls, a five year old and a three year old. I met her prenatally for an hour to get to know her, to meet her girls and to get familiar with her house and where everything is. She signed up for a twenty hour package. When her new baby boy is born, she emails me a picture and I send her congratulations and a list of my availability for the coming month. She picks out five shifts of four hours each.

On the way over, I text her to see if she needs me to pick up anything at the store. She has done a click and pick up order at Kroger, so I swing by there and grab the groceries on my way (from experience, I have learned to double check all the groceries are there so I don't necessitate someone else running out later to exchange an item). She texts me that I can just come in because she is sitting down to nurse. I carry the groceries up and wash my hands on entering. Her husband is back to work but her mother is still there with her two girls. We meet briefly as her mother heads out. I start putting the groceries away and chat with the girls.

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After getting the groceries away, I sit down with the client while she nurses. As a new postpartum doula, I was always afraid to sit down and chat, for fear that chatting was a waste of time, and clients were paying me to do things, rather than to chat. But I’ve found that chatting for a few minutes at the beginning of a shift really helps me to learn what the client needs and wants! She wants to get some laundry done, get lunch for the girls, take a bath, and pick tomatoes from the garden.

I grab her some ice water while she finishes nursing and put the laundry on so that it will be folded by the end of the shift. I involve the girls in making lunch (simple PB&J and cucumber slices) and give it to them at the table. When the client is done nursing, I ask the mom if she has a baby carrier or wrap so I can wear the baby while she takes a bath. I draw the bath and ask her if she'd like some postpartum bathy stuff, like olive oil, witch hazel and lavender (while letting her know I am not an aromatherapist). She takes a forty-five minute bath while I wear the baby and play with the girls.

I switch the laundry over and it’s time for the baby to nurse again. After the client gets settled with some Mother's Milk tea and the baby, she asks me about a warm spot on her breast. While I advise her that I’m not a lactation consultant, I suggest warm compresses and frequent nursing and rest if possible. I write down the names and numbers of some local lactation consultants. I make some warm compresses, bring them to her and show her how to massage the area. 

We chat about how fast this third birth was. During this time, the girls are playing exuberantly and we’re both listening for signs of conflict. I just listen to the client’s birth story and try to be fully present for her processing. I feel like postpartum women’s birth stories need space to breathe, rather than having my projecting things onto them.                              

The girls are ready to go play outside so we head out to the backyard while she nurses and I supervise them biking around the driveway. The girls help me pick tomatoes and I play with the family dog who you can tell used to be the baby!

Inside again, the client says the girls can watch TV while I fold the laundry and wear the baby. The laundry needs to go upstairs to be put away, which the client asks I do because she is still avoiding stairs. The client is able to lay down for the last half hour of the shift.    

When I get home, I email her links about mastitis prevention and links to local lactation consultants.

Balancing the needs of each member of the family, including the family dog, is a challenge that is fun and exciting to meet! I love juggling all the different tasks, prioritizing different things based on what the client needs in that day. On a different day for this same client, I might make some freezer meals, give the baby a bath, do some newborn or sibling photography, do postpartum acupressure, wear the baby so the client can be with her older girls, run an errand or help her process her birth experience more. All in a day’s work!

I love being a postpartum doula. Being present during this precious, precarious and vulnerable time in a family’s life is a service that I feel blessed and honored to provide. If you are curious about either hiring a postpartum doula or becoming one, please contact us here and don't forget about the great opportunity to attend a CAPPA approved postpartum training in Richmond in November (these trainings don't come to Richmond very much!) 

Cat Ennis Sears is a certified birth and certified postpartum doula, as well as a Birthing From Within mentor. She is the mother to two exuberant boys and is the wife of an outdoorsy family man.