I finally found the best time to drive in Los Angeles! It’s about 5:15 AM. At least in Torrance, Redondo Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes, and San Pedro along the Pacific Coast Highway. So, if you’re looking to beat the traffic on Highway 1, get out there just before sunrise. It’s quiet, it’s calm, and there’s hardly a headlight. How do I know this, you ask…
Last week I shared why I decided to start offering overnight postpartum doula support. In case you missed that article, you can read it here or I can very, very briefly summarize it. I started offering overnight support for families with new babies for two main purposes: in order to help parents (specifically mothers/primary care givers) get more sleep between the hours of 12AM and 6AM and to help coach families in nighttime parenting.
This week, I want to share what I learned, as well as what a night of overnight postpartum doula support looked like. I suspect this will be great for me to help process and retain what I learned. And I think it will also be a great way to explain how this works. Which may be super beneficial for someone considering this service but also a little curious about having someone in their house overnight. So, without further ado, here’s my brain dump on my most recent doula experience.
Lessons Learned From Overnight Doula Support
somehow, the night goes quick! Man, the first couple of nights completely got away from me and, before I knew it, it was 5AM.
I figured out to make an edible meal with what they had on hand. This is something I always do, but I find myself typically making lunch, dinner, and snacks and rarely get a change to experiment with making healthy, healing breakfast meals. When cooking for postpartum families, I try to load up meals with nutrient-dense ingredients so I often create uncommon foods. This client was no exception. They had some quinoa packets that I prepped and mixed into an egg and veggie scramble. (side note - this could have been delicious but when I tasted it, I could tell I put too much quinoa in the scramble.) Baked oatmeal, overnight oatmeal, chia seed pudding, peanut butter bites, and a few egg-based dishes, to name a few.
I noticed the baby’s six stages more than I typically do during daytime doula visits. I was more attune to her crying as I wanted to anticipate her needs to keep her crying to a minimum. I kept the lights low but still enjoyed some quiet alert, playful time where I learned she just loved a big, huge surprised-looking face. Then I observed as she perfectly executed textbook sleep stages. I truly enjoyed communicating with her and listening to her as she expressed her needs by her faces, noises, and body activity.
I experimented with the baby! Nothing crazy and all totally safe here, but I used it as an opportunity to try different comfort techniques for the her and was able to provide tried recommendations to the parents based on what I found the baby liked during these overnight experiments. I tested out different blankets, swaddles, and swaddling techniques, finding that the baby certainly preferred some over others.
Personally, it made me a better planner, a better mom, a better wife, and a better homemaker. Sounds like an oxymoron that being away from my family and sleeping less made me better, but it’s so true. Since I knew I was going to be awake for most of (if not all of) the night, I knew I would be tired the next day. So, I had to plan out my activities for the day prior to the overnight visit, then I also had to plan out my activities for the day after the night visit because I knew I’d be tired. But I was also more relaxed as I just didn’t have the mental capacity to sustain my usually high motivation and drive to get stuff done. So, on the day after a shift, I was more present with my kids: I read with my kids more and I found that I played with them more, perhaps because my personal “work” tank was full and I felt professionally fulfilled.
My Overnight Support Doula Bag
I bring a bag with me on all of my visits. Just one purse-type bag for me to keep my wallet, keys, and phone in it. I also bring my planner/notebook (and pen) with me for each visit because I often take notes when I’m with a client and I don’t want to have to borrow a pen and paper (I take notes on topics we discuss, specific questions they have, or things I want to research outside of their home, for example). I also always have three (or four) of my primary reference books in the car, just in case.
For my overnight visits, I still brought my same purse-type bag. But, for this visit, I added a couple personal items to the bag.
two tea bags for middle of the night warmth
Vial of peppermint oil. I use peppermint for several reasons but the two biggest reasons are to gently wake me up and for my immune and digestive systems. Though I don’t eat during the night, I noticed my digestive system getting a little off track (ha! Pun absolutely intended!) and peppermint is known to help with gastrointestinal function. It also helps balance cortisol which can be released when our sleep patterns are irregular. HOWEVER (and this is huge to note), I only use aromatically. Peppermint oil can have a negative affect on breastmilk so I try to avoid having it near breastfeeding moms. So, for me to get most of the benefits, I just take a long, deep sniff or two when I need a pick-me-up then seal it up and put it away.
A couple different layers of clothes. I always wear a company-branded t-shirt, then I’ll add my long-sleeve shirt, and I also bring a sweatshirt. My temperature, the baby’s temperature, and certainly the house temperature fluctuate throughout the night and I like being prepared for it all. Remember, the ideal sleeping temperature for babies is a home between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit, so having these extra layers helps me to stay comfortable.
Separate notepad. As previously mentioned, I always bring my planner (yes, I am old fashion, but I just love having an analog planner. Let’s save that conversation for another day!), but when I work overnight, I like to be able to take copious notes on the baby’s activities and leave that with the family for their review the next day. Notes include feeding times, diaper tracking, notes on baby’s behavior, notes on topics we discussed during the night (to help refresh mom’s memory of our 2AM conversations!), notes about what I did or questions I had (i.e. I folded baby’s towels but didn’t know where to put them so I left them in the nursery), and any notes or cooking instructions for any meals I prepared.
Non-slip socks. I like wearing fun socks, but overnight work is not the time for that. Instead I always wear non-slip socks, no matter the floor surface. Truthfully, I usually wear non-slip socks at every doula visit, daytime or nighttime. It helps me to mitigate the risk of slipping while holding the baby or bringing a plate of food over to the table. Not glamorous at all, but certainly very practical.
Make sure to have some sort of breath/mouth freshener on hand! Turns out my breath gets stanky in the middle of the night whether I’m asleep or awake. I finally got smart and brought some gum. I also considered brining those little disposable toothbrushes but gum worked well for me.
That’s it for my overnight postpartum doula bag. For every other need, I use what the family has. I am of the school of thought that babies really don’t need much. In fact, it is possible (not realistic for most, but possible) to birth a baby and not need a single thing, other than the mother. Not even diapers. That’s a whole different blog article, but it is possible. As a postpartum doula, I set an example and I educate through my actions. So, if I bring an item into the home, I am implying that the family needs to get this item. But this day-and-age, I know that most families have WAY MORE STUFF than they really need so the last thing they need is for someone they trust in this field to introduce a new item that they will eventually feel like they need to purchase. Therefore, I just use what they have and demonstrate, through words and example, how to maximize the use of said item.
One prime example of this is baby carriers. For this family, they owned a Boba Wrap. Since they owned a wrap, I used theirs instead of brining my own wrap. Another example, as previously alluded to, occurs in the kitchen as I only use the ingredients they have on hand and educate through example how to create nutrient-dense, healing-focused foods.
Quick aside here - I want to deliberately address baby wearing right now. First and foremost, I ask my clients how the feel about me wearing their baby. I actually have it in my contract that I have permission to wear the baby, should I determine that is the best care method. But, I still follow up and ask on the first several visits if the family (especially the mother/primary care giver) is still ok with ME wearing THEIR baby. So long as the answer is consistently yes, then I will wear the baby, if necessary.
Example Overnight Visit with From The Start, Postpartum Doula
Every doula has her/his own way of supporting, nurturing, and empowering the families she/he supports, so the way I provide support may look a bit different than another doula. And every family has different dynamics and different needs and I do my best to meet the needs of each individual family. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to briefly describe what my average overnight routine looked like for the family I recently had the opportunity to support.
…My husband and I put our kids to bed, I prepped my tea and my doula bag, talked through the next day with my husband, then left my house around 8:30PM. I arrived at my doula client’s in time for my 9PM shift. Typically when I arrived, there was something happening regarding feeding the baby - sometimes mom was feeding as I arrived, sometimes she had just finished, and, for my last overnight visit, baby was asleep but due to wake for a feeding within 15 minutes of my arrival. And, lucky for me on that last visit, mom pumped and was prepared for me to feed the baby a bottle! I checked in with mom, we talked about a couple things she needed my help with during the night, then she headed to her room to unwind and sleep. So, I immediately got to work!
I started a load of baby laundry (she’d had a pretty sweet blowout on a cute outfit earlier in the day), set up a couple things I’d need for feeding the baby and for later in the night (Boba wrap and set out swaddle blanket), and restocked/reset the changing table. About then, the baby started squirming a bit and transitioned into an active alert state with very clear hunger cues. I prepared her bottle then we got down to business! She did a great job with her bottle, then she and I hung out and chatted for about 20 minutes while she worked through her post-meal digestion. She got tired but had a hard time winding down to sleep, so, about an hour after feeding, I put the Boba on and let baby get some sleep. And sleep she did! She slept for about an hour and a half, then happily awoke.
I took her in for a diaper change then brought her to mom for a late night meal, around 12:30AM. Meanwhile, while mom fed her, I finished preparing the overnight oats that I’d started while wearing the sleeping baby, then I worked on dishes, to include cleaning pump parts and bottles. I changed the laundry and got ready to receive the baby back from mom. Baby fed for a little longer than she typically did, which is totally for the first feeding at the breast after a bottle feed. I went in a few times during this feeding session and could tell she was still feeding, but the final time I went in, the baby was so adorably milk drunk. We’re talking dribbles out of the corner of the mouth and cocked head and everything!
The family liked swaddling the baby, so I swaddled her up real quick then placed her in the bassinet. Since I was at a stand-still with my other tasks (oats soaking, dishwasher running, clothes drying, baby good), I decided to take a rest! I had baby about a foot from my head and I set an alarm for 45 minutes to check on her, and I zonked out. Well, sweet baby just kept on sleeping. She was so content. I finally woke her up at around 4AM and got her ready for her next feeding (quick snuggle, diaper change, then over to mama!).
My shift was due to end at 5AM, so I basically had the duration of the feeding to finish up what I started. I folded laundry, emptied the dish washer and finished tidying the kitchen. I reassembled pump parts and set everything up so that mom could just sit down and immediately start pumping. I left a few notes for mom (I keep track of feeding times, diapers, baby’s disposition, anything mom and I discussed during the night, any breakfast instruction, etc), talked with her for a bit, then snuck out the door just a couple of minutes after 5AM. I stood on the front porch for a minute just to make sure I didn’t forget anything, then I headed home with a smile.
I’m even smiling as I type this right now!
I am so happy to be in a position where I can still be a good mother and wife all while also supporting families with new babies. We cannot do parenthood alone. We absolutely must work together. This is the prime example of a win-win.
That’s my story of overnight support for one family. It’s a general outline, but it’ll likely be a different story for the next family I support. I’m just so grateful for the opportunity.