by Elizabeth Gillette of Porchlight Counseling
Your Postpartum Team: How Having a Postpartum Doula and a Therapist Can Shift the Postpartum Period from Survive to Thrive.
When you are preparing to have a baby, there can be a lot of talk about your birth team: the care providers you choose, whether you will birth at home or a birth center or a hospital, and if a birth doula is right for you. What I have noticed is that there isn’t much as discussion of your postpartum team and how important it is for you to have good quality care once you have settled in at home and realize the impact of this new baby on your day to day life. The time after the birth is critical because it can significantly impact bonding with baby, parents’ mental health, and the changes a partnership experiences as people adjust to parenthood. So here is my suggestion: consider adding a postpartum doula and a perinatal mental health therapist to your team.
This time period is so unique, and seeking out professionals who specialize in it is important. The role of postpartum doulas and perinatal therapists are complimentary. Doulas are in the home, supporting you through the daily challenges of life with a newborn. They see you in all of your realness and rawness, your most vulnerable times. They are there when you break down in tears and encourage you to please take a nap because they can see how much you need it. They support your self-care on a very functional, critical level. Postpartum doulas notice when your mood has dipped significantly, when events from your past have resurfaced and make it difficult for you to function in this new role. They can help you clarify the challenges and sort out what could be helpful to talk about with a therapist. They can provide a solid referral for a therapist they trust and believe you would work well with.
As a perinatal mental health therapist, I support my clients as they are working through the challenges of parenthood: how does being a parent change who I am? What is happening to my relationship with my partner? How do I know if I have postpartum depression or anxiety, and what can I do to feel better? I support new parents in navigating the emotional ups and downs of parenthood (and there are many), address scary intrusive thoughts, and learn strategies to manage depression and anxiety symptoms and feel better as soon as possible.
We are recognizing more and more the strong connection between challenges in feeding your baby and perinatal mental health. Previous breast trauma (from injury, sexual assault, surgeries, etc.) and breast pain can make nursing even more challenging; if you wanted to nurse but are unable to do so, the grief and loss that can surround the topic can be hard to cope with. Having support from a postpartum doula, who is extremely knowledgeable about all ways of feeding your baby and can support your journey in the way that works for you, can make all the difference in your mood and feelings of anxiety. Postpartum doulas can make referrals to lactation consultants to obtain further support if needed, and have your back when you feel burned out around feeding. Perinatal therapists provide a safe space to explore feeding challenges and support you in working through your feelings if you’re facing difficulties.
The doula and therapist combination provides wraparound support—in an ideal world, all families would have this. The doula is in the thick of life at home, witnessing and supporting families in concrete ways. The therapist is at the office, allowing an opportunity for time out of the home, reflection, insight, and focus. Both have the goal of supporting families in ways free of judgement. Being supported physically, emotionally, and mentally is exactly the way it should be: a team supporting your well-being, the relationships in your family, and the development of a strong bond with your baby.