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Apr 28, 2009

Postpartum doulas help moms to cope

"Helpful services given after birth to avoid the baby blues."


Colette and Paul Pritchard knew they'd have their hands full when they returned home from the hospital with their second baby.

So they hired an extra pair -- the experienced hands of Maria Keirstead, a postpartum doula.

While a birth doula helps parents through pregnancy and birth, a post-partum doula helps new parents and their babies in the first weeks and months after the child is born.

"It's been wonderful," says a smiling, laughing Colette, sitting in the sunny family room of their Beaumont home with Maria and two-week-old Adrian.

"I wish I had known about her before.

"The benefit is getting some sleep and not worrying that the baby is going to wake up and I won't hear him. And she's been there a lot for emotional support."

When Colette's first son, Grant, was born four years ago, the new mom was overwhelmed.

She had trouble breastfeeding and was getting little sleep. She began to get dragged down by the "baby blues," she says. Her own parents are older and were unable to help much with the newborn, and Paul's parents live far away.

"That put a lot of burden on Colette," recalls Paul. "And that post-partum depression is a sneaky thing. It just creeps up on you." This time, Paul was determined to be more prepared.

"I wasn't aware of the depression that women can suffer because it isn't talked about that much," he adds.

He read books, looked online and found the Doula Association of Edmonton. Through them, he found Keirstead.

Some of her clients, like the Pritchards, have other children and need extra help to keep their busy households running. Others are first-time parents who appreciate her advice and guidance on caring for a newborn.

"We're really there to help the family get a good start," says Keirstead. "We're not there to take over. We're not a nanny and we're not a nurse, but at the same time, we're not there to be their maid."

Keirstead has done everything from helping Colette with Adrian's first bath to folding laundry -- anything to help the new mom take better care of herself and her new baby

When Colette headed out shopping for the first time since Adrian's birth, Keirstead came along for support. When Grant had questions about the new baby's behaviour (like, why does he cry so much?) Keirstead helped answer them.

"She's been a lifesaver," says Colette. "She's there to help you, to listen, which is what I need. And I'm not worried about being judged."

Postpartum doulas are like the modern-day version of the baby nurses of old, hired by mothers to help in those first, sleep-deprived, trying weeks and months of new parenthood.

It's a small but growing specialty, says Megan Lalonde, co-chair of the Doula Association of Edmonton. The group's certifying body, Doulas of North America, lists only about two dozen certified, postpartum doulas in all of Canada.

But many more have taken the specialized training and haven't yet applied for official certification, or have birth-doula training and will do post-partum work as well, says Lalonde.

"There's definitely a need for new families to have extra help," she adds. "I think there's more recognition of how challenging the postpartum period can be." Keirstead says there is a huge demand in the Edmonton area for the kinds of services she provides. Postpartum doulas typically charge $20 to $30 an hour.

Virtually all new parents in the region get free help from the province's Healthy Beginnings program, which has baby nurses who phone and visit the home in the days after a new baby is born and who are available by phone to answer questions and provide referrals to other agencies.

But some families want, or need, extra support, says Keirstead. For more information, go to or

Today's new mothers are more likely to live away from extended family, who traditionally have helped out when babies are born. Some women have been busy with careers or have moved here more recently and don't have large networks of friends to help them. Fathers may be working out of town or unable to take time off work.

Keirstead helps as many families as she can, but her schedule is limited by the needs of her own five children. Usually, her services are offered for a few weeks or months postpartum, but she has helped families for longer periods, particularly if they have special-needs children or are hampered by postpartum depression.

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