You're probably already familiar with the concept of a doula - they've started to move more into the mainstream and several famous faces (including the Duchess of Sussex) have talked about their plans to use a doula.
However, there are a couple of different types of doula work and services that you can hire to support you. In this article, we're going to look at what a birth doula does, what a postpartum doula does and how the two are different.
Note - other types of doula include end-of-life or 'death' doulas, but we're looking specifically at doula services for mums and new babies in this article.
So let's look at the differences between a birth doula and a postpartum doula...
What does a Birth Doula do?
The birth doula will typically support a woman through labour & birth in whatever form it's needed in - typically providing emotional support, helping the woman remain in that positive birthing mindset, holding space in the birthing room and particularly in a medical setting, advocating for a woman and ensuring her needs and preferences are met and respected.
There's all the practical sides too, such as helping with the pool in the case of a water birth, help you track surges and liasing with the medical team.
The practical support is something that can be beneficial in helping share responsibilities with a partner, so he/she can be more involved in supporting the birthing woman.
There are many reasons people hire a birth doula - and most people report afterwards that it was really beneficial in helping them to achieve a positive and empowering birth (that doesn't necessarily mean everything went 'to plan'!)
What happens when you hire a birth doula?
Typically, a birth doula will meet with the woman (and partner if she has one) a couple of times before the birth so that they can get to know each other and check they are a good 'fit'.
She will then be 'on call' from around 38 weeks of pregnancy (varies from doula to doula, so always ask potentials what week of pregnancy they're on call from), to be ready at any time of day or night in case of baby's arrival.
The doula will arrive at the client's request during labour (typically this is arriving before the journey to hospital/birthing centre, or before/coinciding with the midwives at a home birth).
She then provides continuous support until after the baby is born, and mum/baby/partner are settled. In some cases, she may stay overnight if needed.
A birth doula will also visit postnatally at least once, to support the new mother and give her a chance to talk about the birth if she wants to.
What does a Postpartum Doula do?
The main difference between a birth doula and a postpartum doula is that the postpartum doula is not usually present for the baby's birth (though some doulas offer a combination of birth and postpartum support for continuity of care), and the support offered by the postpartum doula spans a longer period after the birth of the baby - anywhere from the first few weeks to past baby's first birthday!
A postpartum doula will over a wide variety of support which is mostly dependent on the client's needs and the skillset of the individual doula.
Practical support could include cooking/meal prep, light housework, help looking after other children in the household, massage/bodywork, help looking after the baby whilst mum takes a nap...
Many new mothers often don't realise until after the baby is born that a really beneficial element of having a postpartum doula is also having someone to listen without judgement - and having that support with things like sleeping and breastfeeding without being told what to do.
The postpartum doula is there to support the new parent(s) in whatever choices they make, and to talk through whatever topics/feelings/problems they want to. This can range from the birth story, breastfeeding, weaning, going back to work, family relationships and anything else in between!
What happens when you hire a postpartum doula?
Like a birth doula, a postpartum doula will usually be hired before the birth of the baby, and will arrange at least one prenatal visit to get to know the family. Some postpartum doulas offer services booked after the birth of a baby (like our 'One-Off' Package).
Once the baby has been born, the postpartum doula will in most cases arrange a visit within the first week, and then arrange the remainder of the visits - as an example in our Peaceful Postpartum Package, this is 6 total postnatal visits of 3 hours long which are carried out roughly once a week.
Many postpartum doulas will also offer some form of support between visits, be it email, phone or text support.
You may also find that your postpartum doula offers some kind of online community or group so that you can check in every so often as your baby gets older - this can be really beneficial so that you don't feel suddenly 'cut off' or unsupported again after the in-home visits have ended, and can also allow you to connect and share stories with other mums too.
These are the main differences between a birth doula and a postpartum doula - as I mentioned earlier on in the article, some birth doulas will extend their services to cover postpartum too and in this case the differences between the two merge into one role.
It's entirely personal preference and individual circumstances to whether a birth doula or postpartum doula is right for you - if for example you've had a difficult or traumatic birth previously, then having the right support during labour and birth will likely be the most important aspect for you.
Likewise if you don't feel that you need any additional help (or people) present during your birth, but you know you've struggled/are likely to struggle after baby arrives with a lack of support network or with mental health issues, then you might consider hiring a postpartum doula.