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Go Ask Mom

Postpartum doulas help new parents after birth with baby care, self care

Posted April 19, 2015

Suzanne Lee and her husband knew they'd need help when their first child arrived four years ago.

The couple, who live in Durham, had no family nearby to help out after the baby was born. And, frankly, Lee wasn't so sure she wanted people staying with her while she and her husband sorted out those early weeks and months of parenthood.

So Lee hired a postpartum doula to help, a support that was even more critical when Lee's son was born six weeks early. The doula, Marcia Theurmer, visited Lee and her baby boy every couple of days for four hour shifts. She helped the family for about a month.

"She was incredible," said Lee, who remembers being worried about every little sound and move her son made. "It was great to have someone come in and say 'that's OK, it's normal.'"

Most people are familiar with birth doulas, who help an expecting mom before, during and just after the labor and delivery period. Postpartum doulas focus on the first three months after the birth, helping with feeding and baby care, serving as a support and making sure the parents are taking care of themselves during that exhausting period.

Not only did Theurmer, who has since moved away from the Triangle, help Lee and her husband with breastfeeding and other baby care, she also worked to make sure that the parents also were sleeping well, that they were taking care of themselves and that the house was tidy.

And, two years later, Theurmer's work inspired Lee to follow in her path - training and now working as a postpartum doula. Lee, with training from Theurmer, opened Eno River Postpartum Doula more than a year ago. She now helps new and growing families during the first three months of a baby's life. Lee will be among the doulas at Sunday's Doula Speed Dating event in Durham.

These days, Lee works with a couple of families each month, meeting them on a schedule similar to the one Theurmer used to meet with her. She typically sets up a plan with families before they give birth, but is happy to field calls from new parents after the baby is home from the hospital. She sometimes helps families into the second or third month once grandparents return home and the new dad returns to work.

She does all she can to make life smoother in the household. She makes sure feedings are going well, teaches swaddling techniques and advises on sleep. But she also takes care of the parents - making sure they are sleeping, showering and taking care of themselves. She'll prepare snacks and drinks, keeps the laundry moving and even does some light housework.

Most of the time, the new parents have other support - friends or family who come to help out.

"I'm just part of the support, which is great," she said. "New parents need as much help as possible."

She loves babies. But Lee said she really loves helping parents through those early months. Many new parents expect it to be all rainbows and kittens, but as most of us know, those early weeks can be exhausting.

"It's really lovely, but it's really hard," Lee said. "The more support a mother has, the less susceptible she is to depression and postpartum mood disorders."

Lee has plans to continue to grow her business and continue her training. She offers free monthly talks for new parents at the Babies 'R Us in Durham. She'd like to take more classes and workshops, especially to learn more about ways to help new parents build their own relationships.

She's also excited to be part of the Bull City Doula Collective. The group of local doulas will be hosting the region's first Doula Speed Dating event for families at 3:30 p.m., April 26, at the Babies 'R Us at 7001 Renaissance Center in Durham. It's free, but the group will be collecting donations for the Diaper Bank of North Carolina. There, expecting parents can meet with at least 10 different doulas and learn more about them and their services.

Lee said it's important for expecting parents to meet with doulas before they hire them. They need to make sure their personalities and styles click. After all, Lee said, postpartum doulas are folding your underwear and catching you in your pajamas.

"You're there when they are really high and when they are really low," she said.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.

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