There’s a saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” No one better understands this than a new parent. Welcoming a new baby into the house who has her own opinions on eating, sleeping, pooping and expressing emotions can be a huge adjustment, and with the nuclear family having become isolated from the “tribe” in our modern society, new parents can often feel isolated and overwhelmed.
However, even though the literal village isn’t always available to support young families, a number of professional supports are. With the right amount of research and planning, you can assemble a birth and maternity team that can help ease your transition into this new and wonderful phase of life.
Expectant mothers with minimal pregnancy complications who want to limit interventions during birth can opt for a midwife instead of an obstetrician to deliver their babies. Midwives specifically care for women and their reproductive needs, often based on the belief that pregnancy and birth are normal life processes that don’t need to be medicalized. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the benefits of having a midwife include reduced use of birth interventions, better outcomes for the infant and increased quality of care.
Not all midwives receive the same amount of training or perform the same types of care, so talk with prospective choices before hiring one for your birth. If you desire a home birth, find out if that’s a service they provide or if they’ll only deliver in a hospital. Ask about their approach to birth, as well as their training and education. Certified Nurse Midwives receive the highest level of training and certification while those things vary in other types of midwives.
Birth, or labor, doulas offer emotional and physical support to the mother and her partner during pregnancy and birth. They can help you devise a birth plan, offer counter-pressure and other pain-management techniques during labor, and can often provide evidence-based research to help you make decisions and advocate for yourself through the process. This person will be with you when you are at your most vulnerable, so be sure they are someone you feel comfortable having by your side. Colleen Downey, co-owner of Indianapolis Doulas and a labor and postpartum doula, recommends asking why they became a doula and how their training influences their work. Find out when they go on call for birth, and see what they offer in terms of postpartum support.
Much like a birth doula, a postpartum doula can offer both emotional and physical support to new parents, with a postpartum doula specializing in the period after the baby is born. If both a labor and a postpartum doula sound appealing but you can realistically afford to hire only one, Downey says to go with the postpartum doula. “While there is support while you have a baby, there isn’t anyone there when you get home,” she says. A postpartum doula may help with baby laundry, change diapers or prep meals, as well as offer guidance as you navigate changing dynamics in existing relationships, such as with other children in the household or with your parents.
When hiring a postpartum doula, think about how many hours a day you need support and for what duration. Ask them what services they offer — some may focus more on caring for you and the household while others may have more technical skills, such as lactation or sleep support.
A night nurse, aka a night nanny or newborn care specialist, can ensure you are able to catch zzzz’s in those early days of parenthood. Not only are they on-call to help feed or change the baby overnight, they are specially trained in caring for infants in the first three to four months of life and can help families identify if a child needs to seek medical attention. Although they do work similar to a postpartum doula, their main focus is on the child, not the emotional well-being of the family as a whole.
More and more research is pointing to the benefits of breastfeeding infants, though this biological connection between mother and baby doesn’t always come naturally. If a mama experiences pain while breastfeeding, the baby doesn’t want to latch or isn’t gaining weight, or you simply aren’t sure if you’re doing it right, a lactation consultant is trained to help. They can help assess breastfeeding mechanics, as well as situations that can make breastfeeding difficult — such as having multiples or returning to work — and help you come up with a plan that helps you achieve your breastfeeding goals.
A lactation consultant certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) is the gold standard when it comes to breastfeeding support, and it’s a good idea to have one identified before you give birth, Downey says. She recommends looking for one that can assess posterior tongue ties, as this is a common hurdle to breastfeeding that many IBLCEs aren’t yet skilled in.
The Village Grows
While these are the main supports you may turn to during your pregnancy, others are available to help fulfill your birthing desires. Chiropractors can make pregnancy more comfortable. Sleep specialists can ensure you get optimal rest once the baby arrives. There are even a birth photographers who specialize in capturing the beauty of labor. There’s a whole village out there waiting to help welcome your child into the world — all you need to do is reach out and ask.