How do you recover from a postpartum doula overnight?

Guest post by McRae Brittingham of Aunt McRae's New Family Support. McRae is a postpartum doula, breastfeeding peer counselor and child passenger safety technician. Read more about McRae here
With input from Amy Washington, postpartum doula of Mom4Hire, & Erica Angert, postpartum doula of Erica the Doula, LLC.

This is a two part series. This week, we'll be talking about recovering from a long night as a postpartum doula. Next week, we'll tackle recovering from a long birth. If you want to learn about a day in the life of a postpartum doula, click here. 

Postpartum doulas often work overnights. They arrive between 9 and 11pm usually (this is customizable to your needs) to help the family get much needed sleep. While this is so helpful to clients, especially in preventing postpartum mood disorders, there is an art to preparing for and recovering from the overnight. In this post, three postpartum doulas share their tips and tricks for working overnights. 

Coming Home

McRae writes: As a postpartum doula, if I need to work the next night too, I go to sleep as quickly as I can when I get home. If I stay up, I end up in an insomnia cycle and know I'm exhausted but can't shut down enough to sleep. I shouldn't use screens but I do, though I try to watch a short show vs scrolling fb and answering texts, fb messages, and emails. No one is really online before 8 so I try to knock out before then too or all the emails and posts start rolling in. Remembering that there is nothing going on that's important enough that it can't wait until I wake up is helpful.

Logistics of sleeping during the day

McRae writes: I have double black out curtains, attached to the wall as well as hung. Then I have a white noise machine, a fan, and a salt lamp on dim. I have dried lavender in a pouch in my pillow case and I use ear plugs when I need them (that one time my smoke detector battery was dying and chirping but I was too tired to get up so I just grabbed my ear plugs and slept through it!)

Amy Washington adds, "Blackout curtains so the room stays dark and white noise to keep grandkids' noise out."

To doze or not to doze on the job

McRae writes: I do typically work 7 nights a week for at least the first 2 weeks postpartum for each client that wants that much coverage, before bringing on another team member to cover a night or 2. It creates continuity in a time where there is so little. In these cases it's best that I don't sleep at work at all, or no more than a 30 min cat nap so that I can get a solid 8 hours straight in when I get home. If I sleep a few hours at work then a few at home, I'm getting 8 hours overall but it's broken up and from what I understand that's the dangers of working nights, never getting 8 hours in a row.


McRae suggests: I eat through the night and when I first get home since I pretty much just make night my day and then I'm full for that 8 hour stretch to sleep. I try to focus on protein for most of my meals and snacks to stay full.

Amy Washington agrees. "Eat protein before sleeping so I don’t wake up with a headache." 

Work Life Balance

McRae writes: I do have to put a lot on hold when working 7 nights a week but can usually get to evening meetings and events at the sacrifice of spending time with my family that evening. When I have 1 night off it's best if i go ahead and stay up and plan to get some things done quietly around the house and go to bed by 5am-ish since I'll need to day sleep for the night shift the following night anyway. If i have several nights off in a row i may try not to sleep the full 8 hours the first day and try to get to bed by 2ish that night and I can usually bring bedtime up closer to 12 the next night. I've always been a night owl and have never gone to bed before midnight anyway so this lifestyle really suits me. The hardest part is when I try to make myself go to bed on a night off so I can get up for something the next day. The pressure of knowing I need to hurry up and sleep when I'm not tired just makes for a big mess and I end up going the next day exhausted then crashing for 10-12 hours to make up for it when I get home. This also happens when I try to sleep in the morning for a few hours to wake up for something late morning or early afternoon. The pressure to hurry up and sleep usually leads to insomnia no matter how tired I am. I have tried melatonin, benadryl, and teas and my best results are just not going to anything before 6 or 7 in the evening.

Most importantly this is all possible because my husband is a stay at home parent and does his best to keep our children alive and well, and the chores sort of done 😉

Caffeine? Seriously?? No caffeine?

McRae shares: I also do not use caffeine which really confuses people! I have had many side effects when I've tried in the past that don't make it worth it. I will drink decaf coffee occasionally and that tiny hint of caffeine gives me a little placebo but mostly it's just for fun. I do take daily magnesium and other vitamins that are supposed to help with sleep but I don't know if they really do or not.

What if you aren't working nights regularly?

 Erica Angert shares the perspective of a postpartum doula who works two or three overnights per week, rather than 6 or 7.
"I do 2 or 3 overnights a week sometimes as a postpartum doula, and for me, since I'm not working every night, I usually try to keep normal daytime-people hours when possible so I can still be there for my family. It works best for me to come home and immediately crash for about 4 hours (so roughly 6:30-10:30 a.m.), and then I take a shower and have a solid breakfast as soon as I wake up to remind myself it's daytime. If it's a day my kids aren't going to school, I've sometimes had my husband work from home that morning or set them up with a snack and TV before he leaves. As long as I can get 4ish hours in the morning, I'm generally okay the rest of the day and am ready for a normal bedtime that night. With a toddler and two older children this coming summer, I may end up hiring a high school student to come watch my kids for a couple of hours after my husband leaves for work, so I can still sleep. It would still cost much, much less than what I make during an overnight shift!"

What are your tips for recovering from a postpartum overnight? Follow us on Facebook or leave us a comment!

About the doulas interviewed:

McRae Brittingham is a certified postpartum doula, breastfeeding peer counselor and child passenger safety technician with over six years of experience as a postpartum doula. Check out the links below to learn more about her services!
Aunt McRae's, LLC
Doulamatch Profile
Facebook Page
What do postpartum doulas do?

Erica Angert is a certified postpartum doula through DONA and an active member of Richmond's birth community. Read more about Erica here. 

Amy Washington is a postpartum doula, breastfeeding peer counselor and newborn care specialist. Read more about Amy here.