what is the difference between a postpartum doula and a baby nurse?
Preparing for a baby involves making many decisions, including whether a baby nurse, postpartum doula, or family members will support you after the baby’s birth. The postpartum period, often now called “the fourth trimester,” is a time historically when people in all cultures were cared for by close family and friends from the time of birth through the baby’s first 30-40 days.
If you’re lucky enough to have family around who is both able to commit to living with you, caring for you and the baby, and who doesn’t drive you crazy, then hooray! You’re ahead of the game.
Expectant parents who don’t have family nearby, or those who have a more fraught familial relationship, may want to consider hiring supportive help to soften the learning curve of caring for a baby and recovering from birth. Today this care often comes in the form of a postpartum doula or a baby nurse (sometimes called a newborn care specialist).
I’ve been matching people to postpartum care for 17 years, and the question of how postpartum doulas and baby nurses differ comes up frequently. Simply put, the postpartum doula is baby care plus you care! They provide physical and emotional recovery care for the birthing parent, newborn care, and support for partner and siblings as the whole family transitions to parenthood. In contrast, the baby nurse is hired solely to care for the infant.
The postpartum doula:
Postpartum doulas provide non-judgmental support and babycare to parents in the first days or weeks after a baby is born. Whether it’s for a few hours a day, to a few overnights, to longer-term live-in day or nighttime care, a postpartum doula helps you build confidence as a parent and provides support for your whole family.
Postpartum doulas are wonderful for families who want to be the primary caregiver for their baby, but are looking for an extra set of hands and want someone who has strong knowledge about newborns and the emotional and physical recovery from childbirth.
Doulas are a good fit for families whether they plan to breastfeed, bottlefeed, or combo-feed. Postpartum doulas are especially suited toward families who love the idea of being nurtured, listened to and guided as they grow as parents. Doulas will make suggestions (if wanted), but will not enforce a particular parenting style on their clients. They won’t take over complete care of the baby unless the parent wants them to. Doulas guide, support, and work to leave parents with skills and confidence. Doulas are also an excellent choice for parents who want to establish their nursing skills and build their milk supply, since most postpartum doulas have some additional training in lactation support.
Typical postpartum doula services include, but are not limited to:
- Lactation and feeding support (breastfeeding, chestfeeding, bottlefeeding, pumping, etc.)
- Diaper changing, infant bathing, infant dressing, infant laundry
- Infant soothing skills
- Coping skills for new parents and the ability to recognize and provide resources for postpartum mood and anxiety disorders
- Listening skills. (The power and value of having a good listener in your home while you go through a major life transition is huge!)
- Making appropriate clinical and wellness referrals, when necessary
- Running baby and home-related errands
- Meal preparation for parents. (Some postpartum doulas are trained chefs or nutritionists.)
- Babywearing skills
- Help with care of other siblings
- Accompanying parent(s) and infant to pediatrician or midwife/doctor appointments
- Nurturing the new parent
- Help with physical recovery from birth
- Help to achieve your parenting goals
The baby nurse:
In contrast, baby nurses (also sometimes known as newborn care specialists) join a family to provide mainly infant care. They are not medical nurses unless they have an RN, which is important to note. They are hired to provide care for the baby, which in turn allows significant time for the parents to rest. Most baby nurses are hired for extended periods of time, typically working 12- or 24-hour shifts. They tend to be hired by families who are interested in having someone live with them for an extended time, who prefer to get their baby on a schedule as soon as possible, who want someone else to feed their baby some or all of the time, and who may lean toward eventual sleep training.
Typical baby nurse or newborn care specialist services include:
- Care of the newborn
- Bottle feeding, bathing, diapering, dressing baby
- Establishing and applying routines and eating/feeding schedules
- Nursery organization
- Bottle cleaning and sterilization
- Sleep training
So how do you determine which form of help is right for your family? First, we recommend doing some of your own research on postpartum doulas and baby nurses, asking friends and family for their experiences, and reading reviews online, etc. Once you have all the information, think about your personal needs and style, and remember that everyone has an opinion about how you should parent, but they are not you, and they are not in your family 24/7.
Another important thing to remember: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Some people hire a postpartum doula for the first few weeks and then shift to a night nurse once breastfeeding is well established, for instance. At boober we believe you need to make the best choice for you and your family during this precious time.
I’m Dr. Sneha Gazi. I’m a physical therapist and owner of Sneha Physical Therapy, a NY-based in-home and telehealth practice. I’m the founder and Executive Director of Physical Therapy International Service Foundation, a 501(c)(3) ...
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