characters-696951_1280September is Baby Safety Month, an opportunity to raise awareness and resources for safety of newborns and infants. What role do doulas play in baby safety? We are support professionals, of course, and not medical or emotional health professionals, safety inspectors or social workers. Doulas have an important role in providing evidence based information to families and as a source of referrals when needed for a variety of areas including those related to infant safety. Here are some areas where doulas support the safety of babies in the course of our relationship with clients:

Before Birth

In the course of prenatal visits with client families, birth doulas may touch on a number of topics related to baby safety without even realizing it:

  • Car seats: Many doulas provide families with resources to ensure their car seats are properly installed or comply with expiration date rules. In some cases doulas connect a family with area services to obtain a car seat, a major contribution to baby safety!
  • Home preparation: While doulas are not home safety experts, we do sometimes find ourselves helping families think through how they will keep their newborn safe around family pets, family members who smoke, woodstoves or fireplaces and the like. Often simply asking questions prompts families to address these safety concerns on their own.
  • Postpartum support planning: Assisting clients in creating a plan for postpartum support for emotional needs, meals, and child care is a common aspect of doula services. We know support is crucial for the overall wellbeing of new mothers and given their role as caretakers of babies, a healthy and supported mom goes a long way to support the safety of a baby.
  • Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Opening a dialogue with parents about what is normal to feel and see in one another after a new baby versus what is not can help with early detection of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. Encouraging families to have a plan of action – how they will address concerns around mood or anxiety and who they will contact for support or intervention is also appropriate for doulas. Resources such as support groups, information on signs and symptoms from reputable sources and therapists can be provided as well to ensure families have the tools they need to address postpartum mood disorders should they arise.

After Birth

Postpartum doulas have a significant opportunity to impact infant safety in the course of supporting new families. Being in the home with the family provides important insight into how the family is coping and where additional support is needed. Postpartum doulas use education, demonstration, active listening, observation and referrals to support baby safety while supporting client families. Birth doulas may also address these topics in postpartum visits.

Family Adjustment & Parenting
A new baby is a big adjustment for a family! Postpartum doulas plan an important role in observing how the family is coping and providing appropriate education or referrals on:

  • Soothing techniques and normal newborn behavior: Helping parents expand their techniques and resources for soothing their baby often begins by increasing their understanding of newborn behavior needs and communication. In addition to improving bonding between parents and their baby, increased knowledge of newborn sleeping and feeding cycles as well as ways to soothe baby can go a long way to reduce the chances of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Support in this area can include recommending area support groups, books, articles or videos as well as demonstrating swaddling or other techniques.
  • Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Postpartum doulas use their training, observations and referral network to help connect families to professional mental health services when needed. Education on normal thoughts, moods and emotions in response to physical and hormonal changes while sleep deprived and caring for a new baby can go far to help families know when to seek additional support even after postpartum doula support ends. Introduction to support groups and evidence based information are also key methods of support.

Using evidence based practices for safe sleep reduces the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Sudden Unexplained Infant Death.

  • Sleep safety: Doulas often share information about baby positioning and hazards, such as loose bedding, from evidence based sources. Families may have had one plan for where baby would sleep, but in adjusting to their new addition may be practicing something entirely different. Postpartum doulas can play a valuable role in helping parents adjust their sleep plan safely.
  • Breastsleeping: For families that are nursing, it’s impossible to talk about sleep and not discuss breastfeeding. Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, recently published a commentary proclaiming, “There is no such thing as infant sleep, there is no such thing as breastfeeding, there is only breastsleeping.” Not only is bedsharing while breastfeeding convenient for both mother and baby, it increases the frequency of feedings and has been shown to increase sleep safety. There are, of course, important safety considerations for breastsleeping families to know and postpartum doulas can and do share evidence based information with clients.

Baby Gear

  • Recalls and expirations: Families planning to use a crib handed-down from a family member may not be aware of newer regulations on slat spacing or that the car seat passed on to them may have expired. While our role as doulas is not to police such things, sharing websites and articles on evaluating the safety of baby gear is very much in line with providing informational support.
  • Babywearing: Whether it’s helping new parents figure out their wrap or sharing articles on wearing newborns to ensure adequate neck support, doulas are often asked to contribute to safe babywearing through assistance and demonstration.

What other topics related to baby safety do you find yourself contributing to while supporting families as a doula? Share in the comments or in The DONA International Facebook group.

— Adrianne Gordon, MBA, CD(DONA)