What is the difference between a postpartum doula and a baby nurse?

Ask any new parent and they’ll tell you that the postpartum period (aka “the fourth trimester”) can be a challenging time. You might luck out and have a really easy going baby who only cries when she needs to eat or has a wet diaper, falls asleep easily, and stays asleep at night for long stretches. Or, on the other hand, you may have a fussy baby who is difficult to soothe and keeps everyone up at night with her screams.

One practical solution you could explore is to hire a support person after the birth of your child. There are basically two main types of postpartum care: a postpartum doula and a baby nurse. If you are wondering which would be a better fit for your family, read on! Below is a quick overview of the two types of postpartum care so that you can decide what is best for you and your family.

Postpartum Doulas

A postpartum doula’s role is to “mother the mother.” A postpartum doula is trained to recognize parenthood as a major life transition and provides care for not just the mother but also the entire family (partners and siblings included!) as they adjust to their new roles.

Here are some of the benefits of a postpartum doula:

  • Provides emotional support and coaching to help families adjust and settle in during the newborn period.
  • Nurtures and cares for the mother. Helps with the baby so the mother can rest and recover from labor.
  • Offers breastfeeding or bottle feeding support. Some postpartum doulas are also trained lactation counselors.
  • Provides evidence-based education on baby care and soothing techniques, and explains normal newborn behavior.
  • Encourages the mother to be confident in her new role. Empowers parents to care for their new baby themselves.
  • Provides help with light housekeeping, meal preparation, and errands so the family can focus on bonding with the baby.
  • Provides professional referrals to other services as needed, such as mental health professionals or parent support groups.

You would typically contract with a postpartum doula on a part-time basis. The hours are flexible and typically range 4 to 6 hours a day, but overnights are also possible. You can also decide whether to have the postpartum doula come every day or just a few days a week.

If you plan to hire a postpartum doula, make sure they have trained with a reputable certification program such as DONA, CAPPA, Maternity Wise, or Childbirth International.

Baby Nurses (and Newborn Care Specialists)

Baby nurses are traditionally women who have overnight nanny responsibilities. In some states, the term “baby nurse” can only be used legally if the person is an actual Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). These days the term “Newborn Care Specialist” is used for people who have experience in newborn care but do not hold specific medical licenses.

Here are some of the benefits of a baby nurse or Newborn Care Specialist:

  • Offers specific training and skills in infant care. A baby nurse’s main focus is to take care of the baby’s needs, which includes feeding, burping, bathing, changing, bottle preparation, bottle cleaning and sterilizing, and the organization and maintenance of nursery.
  • Creates a schedule or routine for eating, sleeping, nap, and play time. A baby nurse can also assist in establishing healthy sleep habits.
  • Focuses more on the care of the baby and not necessarily on the mother. This relieves parents of caring for their newborn and allows for down time.
  • Provides guidance and education for the parents on infant needs, swaddling, breastfeeding, and other aspects of newborn care.
  • Takes over complete care of the newborn at night to provide parents with much needed rest. This allows parents to get more hours of uninterrupted sleep, so they can have more energy to face the next day.
  • Frees up parents to spend time bonding with and comforting older children as they adjust to life with the new little one.
  • Offers special experience working with multiples and can effectively teach parents how to care for more than one baby at a time.

In terms of work day, the commitment of hours a baby nurse offers is typically longer than the postpartum doula, somewhere in the range of 8 to 24 hour shifts. It’s not unusual for a baby nurse to do overnight stays and possibly even live with the family after birth (anywhere from a week to several months). You can pick a schedule that works for your family.

If you plan to hire a baby nurse, it is recommended to check their references. Training programs vary from more official groups like Newborn Care Specialist Association (NCSA) to smaller trainings lead by individual agencies or no specific training at all.

The Bottom Line

In summary, postpartum doulas focus on empowering the parents to care for their newborn, whereas baby nurses focus on taking care of the baby. Either way, there is no right or wrong approach. Whether you choose to hire a postpartum doula or a baby nurse really depends on your family’s needs. Think about what kind of support you’d like to have. Talk to friends and colleagues who’ve had babies and ask about their experience during the newborn period. Ask if they hired a postpartum doula or baby nurse, and to share their honest feedback.

 

References

Position Paper: The Postpartum Doula’s Role in Maternity Care [Pdf]. (2018, March). DONA International.

Rogers, A. (2015, October 2). The Benefits of Newborn Care Specialists and Postpartum Doulas. Retrieved July 30, 2018, from https://medium.com/@anitarogers/the-benefits-of-newborn-care-specialists-and-postpartum-doulas-3799028b6989

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