When people find out that I'm a doula, they almost always assume that I'm a labor doula. This is probably because doulas are more well-known in the labor setting (if a person knows about doulas at all). However, that's just one type of doula work. What I am, a Postpartum and Infant Care Doula, is quite different. Here's a breakdown of what each type of doula does to support her* client.
Labor Doula (LD): a professional trained in childbirth who provides continual emotional and physical support to a woman who is in labor. The main concern of a doctor or midwife is a safe delivery for the mother and her baby. Doulas are also concerned with that of course, but they provide nonmedical care. Typically, LDs will meet with their client a few of times prenatally to go over birth preferences/wishes, go over what the client expects of her as a doula, perhaps give some educational information about birth, etc. Usually doulas check in with the mother and her newborn a couple of times after birth too just to make sure everyone is recovering well from the birth. The doula's purpose is to help women have a safe, memorable, and empowering birthing experience. There are various certifying organizations where one can become a LD: ProDoula, DONA International and CAPPA, just to name a few.
Some view LDs as "glorified cheerleaders" or superfluous, but these thoughts simply aren't true. There's much research that reveals that doula-attended births are often associated with better birth outcomes and women who receive this kind of continuous care are more likely to go into spontaneous labor, less likely to need epidurals and many other common birth interventions, and less likely to have negative feelings associated with their birth experience. And doulas - no matter which kind - are not only for the mothers! Fathers, partners and other family members can also greatly benefit from having the expertise and consistent care of a doula during moments of life that can tend to be highly stressed and hard to adjust to.
Postpartum and Infant Care Doula (PPICD): a professional who is trained in things such as infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother–baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care. PPICDs help mothers and their families in the first days and weeks after bringing home a new baby. The specific PPICD certification can only be obtained through a ProDoula training.
I like to say that PPICDs take care of your life so that you don't have to! Once you've given birth, all you need to focus on is resting and recovering from the life-changing experience you and your baby have just been through, bonding with and feeding your baby (and yourself). I come in to take care of the rest like meal prep, running errands, light housework, help with older children, organizing all of the new baby gear, etc. I wish I had had a doula in the first few months after my children were born. Maybe my whole experience of adding them to the family would have felt drastically different as a result!
Have questions about doulas that I didn't address? Leave a comment and ask away, I'm happy to help you find answers!
* Doulas do not have to be female, but it is almost always women who are trained in this profession. I chose to use the her pronoun because I'm a woman!