Postpartum Doulas Support Maternal Mental Health

Research suggests that doulas play an essential role in improving maternal health outcomes, especially for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (Wint et al, 2019). Most notably, Black women and birthers who include doulas as part of their care team see fewer complications than those who do not. As a certified birth and bereavement doula and a psychologist, I am a proponent of doulas for all birthers. In fact, I recommend that each parent that I see for individual therapy seeks out the services of a qualified doula for their birth team. In addition to having a doula for labor and delivery, I have become an even greater advocate for access to postpartum doula care, especially for those who have experienced birth complications, pregnancy loss, or have a history of mood and anxiety disorders.

Pregnancy and childbirth can impact the emotional wellbeing of birthing parents, especially depending on the circumstances of a pregnancy, relationship factors, finances, employment, and living situation of that person. Changes in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can make a person more vulnerable to shifts in mood and anxiety during pregnancy and after giving birth. Complications during pregnancy or birth including those related to epidurals, inductions, unplanned C-sections, and loss can be especially impactful on the emotional well-being of mothers and birthers.

Postpartum doulas understand the unique challenges of those who have recently given birth and provide a range of tangible, supportive, and educational services, which may include lactation and feeding support, assisting the birther with postpartum care, light housework, care of baby, emotional support, and providing time for parents to sleep. Many of these tasks are essential to maintaining emotional and psychological wellness during the postpartum period. Sleep is imperative for all new parents’ functioning, but especially for those with mood and anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, sleep is also the thing that most new parents struggle to get enough of due to balancing the care of their newborn with their own needs. Postpartum doulas who provide day or overnight care allow parents to sleep and be better prepared to manage care of their newborn and themselves during waking hours.

The time a postpartum doula spends interacting with the mother or birther places them in a unique position to assess their emotional adjustment. Their assessment can be instrumental in ensuring that those in need get access to additional mental health support. Those who access doula services may lower their risk for a major mood complication and add another layer of support and accountability for self-care. So, for all those who are seeking care of birth doulas for the services they offer during pregnancy and delivery, great! Also consider extending those services into your postpartum care for your physical and emotional well-being.

*Wint, K., Elias, T. I., Mendez, G., Mendez, D. D., & Gary-Webb, T. L. (2019). Experiences of Community Doulas Working with Low-Income, African American Mothers. Health Equity, 3(1), 109–116.