Caring for a Newborn From a Doula’s Perspective

By: Aaliyah Ellison-McPeters

Photo Credit: www.depositphotos.com

Prioritizing Maternal Mental Health 

It’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. A new baby can often bring a wave of new emotions for a  mother, even experienced mothers. Some emotions range from bliss to anxiety, and while pregnancy can  be a time of only joy and excitement, many women have different testaments. Mental health isn’t  magically protected during pregnancy. Over 80% of mental health issues in pregnant women go  unreported. A mother’s mental and emotional health must be prioritized through thorough screenings for  anxiety and depression in a strategic way that provides tools for women during pregnancy and  postpartum. The physical, social, and natural hormonal changes and disruptions can cause adverse effects  on mental health during pregnancy. In cases where mental health problems are acknowledged, it can still  be difficult for women to get adequate care. Up to 15% of pregnant women diagnosed with anxiety and  depression get connected with appropriate care. Stigma, insurance, lack of time, and more can make it  harder for providers to connect patients with treatment. Despite this, women can receive resources from  care providers such as an OBGYN, midwife, nurse, or doula. 

Basic Newborn Care

During pregnancy, it’s helpful for expectant parents to take newborn care classes to help prepare for the  arrival of a new baby. These classes can help with the anxiety many new parents face before the transition  of bringing their new baby home. Primary newborn care includes: correctly handling a newborn, which  involves proper neck support; changing diapers; bathing, soothing techniques; dressing/swaddling; and  feeding and burping a newborn. Before leaving the hospital or birthing center, it’s helpful to inquire about  home visits by a healthcare provider or nurse. If breastfeeding, asking if a lactation consultant can come  to your home to provide further support can be helpful for new parents. Many midwives offer postpartum  follow-ups to mothers having homebirths for the first ten days or more as needed. If planning a  homebirth, ask your midwife about her standard postpartum follow-up appointments and tailor a plan that  will benefit your postpartum period and family best. When caring for a newborn within the first few  days/weeks post-birth, it’s essential to understand how to clean and care for vulnerable areas adequately,  such as the umbilical cord and healing circumcisions. Proper hand hygiene is vital before coming in  contact with a newborn; wash hands with soap and water before handling the new baby.

Professional and Community Support for Mothers and Their Babies

For many first-time and experienced parents having help from their community and extended family can  be a great resource during those first few weeks. It can also give parents the confidence to parent to the  best of their abilities. Examples of this kind of support include grandparents and other extended family  members staying with the parents for a few days to help with the baby, give advice, and help nourish the  new mother. Sometimes this kind of support does prioritize the baby but the mother. Bringing food that is  prepped or frozen, helping around the house, and entertaining older children lowers the load parents carry  and allows them to focus on the new baby. Postpartum doulas are an excellent resource for new parents.  Postpartum doulas can provide evidence-based information on infant feeding, recovery, mother-baby  bonding, soothing, and basic newborn care. Postpartum doulas focus on mothering the mother and  providing a solid support team for her and her family. Most doulas offer services for a family anywhere  from a few days to a few weeks post-birth. A family may have her services between 1-3 days per week or  as many as five days per week. 

Newborn Safety

Most of the injuries infants endure are preventable. The most common injury is falling. A newborn must  never be left unattended on an elevated surface for even a moment. Baby proofing, such as placing gates around the house and window guards on higher windows, is helpful as a baby grows and becomes more  mobile. Sleep is very important in terms of the safety of a baby. Not following the general rules of safe  sleep can increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Infants under one year of age are the  most at risk for SIDS. When practicing safe sleep, infants should always be on their backs to sleep, even  during naps. Babies should be placed on a firm mattress without loose bedding or stuffed toys and  pillows. Smoking shouldn’t be allowed near your baby to promote the healthiest environment for them.  Car safety is another important topic. Car accidents are a significant threat to infant safety. Infants should  never be placed in the front seat, and when installing a car seat, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for  how it should be installed. Always keep a baby rear-facing as long as the car seat allows. When unsure  that your car seat is installed correctly, many local fire and police stations will check the installation. 

Resources:

American Academy of Pediatrics (n.d.) Safe Sleep. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from: https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/safe-sleep/

American Pregnancy Association (n.d.). Postpartum Doula. American Pregnancy Association. Retrieved from: https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/planning/postpartum-doula/

Barnes, M., Pratt, J., Finlayson, K., Courtney, M., Pitt, B., & Knight, C. (2008). Learning about baby:  What new mothers would like to know. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 17(3), 33–41.  https://doi.org/10.1624/105812408X329584

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2023). Information for Parents of Infants & Toddlers (Approximate Ages 0-3). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:  https://www.cdc.gov/parents/infants/index.html

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2022). Mom’s Mental Health Matters. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved from: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/ncmhep/initiatives/moms-mental-health-matters/moms

Lifespan (2023). The Importance of Integrating Maternal Mental Health with Pregnancy Care. Lifespan. Retrieved from: https://www.lifespan.org/lifespan-living/importance-integrating maternal-mental-health-pregnancy-care

Nationwide Children’s Hospital (2022). Home Safety for Infants and Toddlers. Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Retrieved June 13, 2023, from  https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/family-resources-education/health-wellness-and-safety resources/helping-hands/home-safety-for-infants-and-toddlers  

Office on Women’s Health (2021). Newborn Care and Safety. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. Retrieved June 13, 2023, from  https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/childbirth-and-beyond/newborn-care-and-safety

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