Embracing the Postpartum Mind

One of my biggest frustrations as a doula is the inattention paid to women and birther’s postpartum health and recovery. It’s a stark, ongoing manifestation of medical misogyny. Historically, women were seen as vessels for babies. Our health during pregnancy was paramount because a healthy baby was the priority. Once the baby is born, the focus shifts to the baby’s health. Moms and birthers get put in the corner. This is reflected in the growing body of research on the benefits of doula care, most of which focuses on birth support, with little attention paid to the benefits of having a postpartum doula.

Among other concerns, this sweeping aside of birther’s postpartum health contributes to postpartum mental illness, both its development and escalation as it goes unrecognized and untreated.

In every postpartum interaction, I ask the birthing client how they are doing. This often elicits a response about the baby. I hold space for this, answer any questions, and then bring the focus back to how they are doing. There’s often a sense that focusing on themselves after having a baby is somehow “bad parenting”. I use the routine guidance we’re given on planes as a metaphor: You have to get your own oxygen mask on before you can help anyone else. When new mothers and their health concerns get left behind, it’s like we are asking them to sustain someone else’s life with no oxygen mask of their own.

Prenatally, I review what routine postpartum care should include so clients know if anything is falling through the cracks. I also review things that aren’t routine but should be. This includes how to tell if you should be assessed by a pelvic floor physiotherapist, as well as how to tell if you are experiencing postpartum mental illness that should not be dismissed as “baby blues”. In our birth intention setting practice, I ask clients to reflect on the mental health interventions they are open to if the need arises. I ensure that I have referrals at the ready to culturally appropriate therapy, support groups, and self-help resources, along with information on pharmacological and naturopathic options.

Whether they remember any specific information or not doesn’t matter to me. The goal is to ensure that they know that I am a trusted person they can disclose if they are not feeling mentally well after they have their baby. They know ahead of time that I view mental illness as normal, non-shameful, and usually impermanent if the right steps are taken.

A 2022 US-based study that explored birth and postpartum support found that having a postpartum doula lowered the odds of having postpartum depression and anxiety by 57.5%. This data was drawn retrospectively from Medicaid claims in three states that fund doula care. It’s a great example of why our services need to be accessible.

The non-birthing parent can also experience postpartum mental illness which is often overlooked. As part of supporting the whole family, we should be vigilant about this risk and empower non-birthing clients to recognize early warning signs and see help early. Early intervention is critical for ensuring positive outcomes for any mental illness.

Spreading the news about the mental health benefits of having a postpartum doula is a great way to observe Maternal Mental Month and World Maternal Mental Health Day on May 4. It’s especially important to raise awareness among our elected provincial representatives, and health policymakers. These are the people who can ensure needs-based access to doula care.




Keira Grant (she/her) Inclusion and Engagement Lead – Racialized Communities

Keira brings a wealth of experience to the Online Community Moderator role. She is a Queer, Black woman with a twenty-year track record in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) education, projects, and community building initiatives.

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