Why Overnight Postpartum Doula Support

Hey hey! Look at this! A blog article for two weeks in a row! Woot woot! Glad you’re here for this one. I’m kind of continuing on with the whole “why” concept but today’s article is about why I’m now offering overnight support. 

Can you guess the top two topics potential clients always ask me when we discuss their concerns for the postpartum period and life with their newborn? I bet you can but since you’re reading this and I’m having a hard time hearing your response, I’ll type it here for you - feeding and sleep. Parents ask if I am able to help them with feeding (both of the baby and of themselves) and they ask how I can help them with sleep. 

Previously, before I offered overnight support, I’d describe a typical daytime visit which often includes a nap or downtime for the primary caregiver.  I would also show them ways to safely co-sleep or ways to set up the home to minimize awake time and maximize rest (even if it wasn’t always sleep). But I wasn’t able to personally and physically provide the hands-on support during the nights to really help foster sleep for the whole family. 

Until now! In December 2018 I started providing overnight support! And, in keeping with my “WHY” series, I want to tell you a two of the reasons why I decided to add overnight support to my services. 

The first, and most significant reason, is SLEEP. Sleep for the mother/primary care giver. Sleep for the partner. Sleep for the baby. Sleep for the dog. Often not sleep for me, but, thanks to some high-speed Army training, I’m ok to function on minimal sleep (so long as I am supplemented with high-potency caffeine!). Did you see that first part about sleep for mom? Let’s get it to that for a minute.  

Sleep is critical for all animals. There’s no question there. But sleep is absolutely critical for mothers/primary caregivers of newborns? Sleep can literally be a matter of life and death! Alright, I may be stretching the evidence a bit there, but you get the point. Sleep impacts so, so many things in each of us, but is especially critical for parents with new babies. 

Critical Sleep Windows

According to one study, mothers who are able to sleep “at least one (1) hour during the day” was associated with lower postpartum depressive symptom scores and “spending 2 or more hours awake between 12 AM and 6 AM was associated with a higher depressive symptom scores at three months postpartum.” This means that taking at least one nap of one-hour or more in duration during the day can lower a mother’s depressive symptoms. It also means that being awake for more than 2 hours between the hours of 12 AM and 6 AM can increase a mother’s depressive symptoms.

Ohhh, ohhh, ohhh - I can help with that! Put me in coach! During the night, I take over caring for the baby. The only thing the mother needs to do is drink water and, if they are a breastfeeding diad, she needs to nurse the baby (and, if she’s safe about it, she can even doze off a bit while feeding!) or pump. Yes, she won’t have fully uninterrupted sleep throughout the night as babies still need to frequently eat, but she won’t be up for 2+ hours between midnight and 6AM. I’ve got that! 

Importance of Mother’s Feelings Regarding Sleep

The power of a mother’s mind and her perception is also a critical component of this puzzle. The aforementioned study, along with this study, find that how a mother feels, the subjective side, is a very strong indicator of postpartum depression. Check this out…

“Regardless of other factors, including objective measures of sleep quality and quantity, mothers who felt they were not obtaining adequate sleep…had higher depressive symptom scores in the postpartum period.” 

This says that if a mother feels like she isn’t sleeping enough, she is more likely to have higher depressive symptoms. Perhaps this is a relatively easy fix - let’s just support the mom by doing what she asks. Let’s encourage her to turn inside, find what she thinks she needs, trust her intuition, and do her best to communicate. If she can’t find out what she needs, she probably needs to sleep! And I can let her do that!

Helping the mother truly, unconditionally, FEEL supported. That’s what I’m all about. That’s My WHY

So, in order to put my money where my mouth is, I need to provide overnight support and help families (mothers in particular) feel like they are getting adequate sleep and feel like they are receiving exceptional support. 

Teaching Nighttime Parenting

The second reason I started offering overnight support is to treat it as an extension of daytime doula support. As I’ve explained before in Part 2 of the Help After Baby Series (In-Home, Hired Support), there is a difference between postpartum doula support and other types of baby-related support. One of the main differences between postpartum doulas and other in-home help for families with newborns is that postpartum doulas typically do not take over care. We educate through words and example, we empower through support and providing the space and setting the conditions for mom/caregiver to establish her own routines. We ask and answer questions, but rarely do we tell mom/caregiver what to do or how to do something. 

I wanted to transpose this into helping teach families how to parent at night. Nighttime parenting is hard for many reasons, often because the is when the mother feels (there’s that whole feeling thing again) alone. Everyone else in the house is quiet and asleep, but not the mother. She’s wide awake as the raccoon outside. How lonely. But it doesn’t have to be. I can keep her company. I can educate her while she has no other distractions. I can listen to her when she is at her most vulnerable and tired. I can talk her through ways to help her maximize her own sleep and rest while still caring for her baby. 

I felt like I had so many things I wanted to share with families regarding nighttime parenting but hadn’t had the chance to do it. 

Until now! I am so excited that my own family situation and support network is set and stable and that I am now able to continue to mother my own family while now offering overnight postpartum doula support. 

Curious about what overnight support provided by From The Start, Postpartum Doula looks like? As a therapeutic and reinforcing practice, my next blog article is going to be about just that - lessons from overnight doula support!

Stay blessed, 

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Kari Haravitch 

Disclaimer on this post: if you or someone you know is experiencing postpartum depression, please seek professional help with a maternal mental health specialist or through Postpartum Support International. Sleep and nighttime parenting are just two of many factors impacting postpartum depression. In fact, some of the research contradicts itself, making the whole sleep deprivation and postpartum depression very much a chicken-egg debate - which came first and what leads to what. There are so many different pieces to this puzzle and every mother, every diad, every family is different.