A second-act career: Baby care!

A postpartum doula is a specially trained, unbiased professional there to fulfill a variety of needs at a time when the family’s needs are most pressing.

Patti Oslund
Patti Oslund of Minnetonka cares for two babies at once for a local family as part of her job as a postpartum doula, a career that can involve taking care of twins or even triplets. Photo courtesy of Patti Oslund
 What would it be like to land your dream job at the tail end of a long, high-stress career or — better yet — during retirement?

Pretty amazing, say a trio of Twin Cities women, who have found paid work in the field of postpartum doula care.

Though being a nurse isn’t a requirement to carry the title of certified postpartum doula, all three landed serendipitously in the field after decades in full-time nursing.

And retired nurses aren’t the only folks ending up on the same path.

Nationwide — as young families struggle to juggle full-time work schedules for both parents — older adults from all walks of life are finding postpartum doula work can be an ideal second-act career.

What’s a postpartum doula?

While a birth doula serves the mother during labor and delivery, a postpartum doula serves the mother (and her immediate family) in the home after the baby is born.

The idea that “it takes a village to raise a child” is nice, but in reality, today’s parents don’t have the villages of yore. Extended families are often separated by distance, demanding careers and busy lives.

Even if grandparents, friends and neighbors are willing to pitch in on occasion, more help is often needed, especially given the increase in births of multiples such as twins and triplets, compared to a generation ago.

A postpartum doula is a specially trained, unbiased professional there to fulfill a variety of needs at a time when the family’s needs are most pressing.

It can a be a huge service for the family, but also a gift to the postpartum doula on duty.

“Watching as a family unit grows and learns together is beautiful,” said Patti Oslund, a licensed practical nurse, certified postpartum doula and certified lactation counselor from Minnetonka.

Facilitating growth and discovery is a big part of a doula’s work, which entails knowing when to fade into the background (and maybe fold some laundry) and when to be front and center, giving hands-on assistance with breastfeeding.

A fascinating aspect of doula work is the ability to intimately observe different fami- lies during their most vulnerable time.

With this intimacy comes a deeper wisdom. A doula learns so much in her training program and then infinite lessons on the job, every day.

No two babies are the same. No two families are the same. And no two days are the same.

The dynamic, doulas say, is precisely what makes doula work so necessary and so gratifying.

Though Joy Hoffman carries a long chain of professional qualifications (including a Bachelor of Science in Nursing), she prefers the title Captain of the Universe, which is what her children call her.

She started as a nurse’s aide at age 17. Over the years, she’s seen women sent home earlier and earlier after giving birth.

“Now moms are being discharged very quickly from hospitals and birthing centers,” she said. “We used to keep everyone for at least three days’ time — enough to really get breastfeeding started.”

Hoffman said those quick discharges mean there’s most definitely a need for postpartum doulas, adding: “Insurance should pay for it!”

Patti Oslund of Minnetonka
Patti Oslund of Minnetonka cares for two babies at once

Night and day

A postpartum doula offers a variety of services — light housework, meal plan- ning, cooking and shopping. Though these tasks may fall in line with a general housekeeper or personal chef role, the doula is trained to recognize signs of postpartum mood disorders, complications after a surgical birth and when there’s a problem with a baby.

Though a postpartum doula can’t make an official medical diagnosis, she’s on the front lines and ready
to make proper recommendations, including when to seek care.

The doula is also trained in breast- feeding, weaning, nutrition, bonding, infant development, soothing tricks and sleep patterns.

She learns to hold space for an emotional, exhausted and fragile mom. She knows how to tie on the overcomplicated baby carrier. She’s willing to hold the baby — or not — while Mom takes a nap or a hot shower.

One of the more popular doula services among families is the overnight shift, which gives the new parents at least one night of nearly uninterrupted sleep.

Whatever the day brings, the doula leaves her shift feeling like she’s made a difference. An added bonus is that she makes her own schedule, within reason.

“What job can be better than wearing slippers and cuddling babies?” Oslund said.

A natural transition

Though anyone can train to become a postpartum doula — most certification programs take 4-8 weeks — the profession is especially well-suited for caregivers and nurses.

Elizabeth Weinlick, a registered nurse who’s worked at Abbott and Southdale, as well as Health Foundations and Minnesota Birth Center, said she enjoys getting to know families at home, verses in a health-care setting.

“With nursing, my relationships with my patients were limited by the length of my shifts and the requirements and demands of the job,” she said. “Doula work allows more opportunity to really get to know families and their babies.

I feel my knowledge is utilized in a different way as a doula. I pull in a lot of my nursing experience, but I also bring a lot of personal mothering experience to the table.”

Of course, new parents feel a significant sense of relief and confidence in having a real nurse in the house, particularly one who’s worked in labor, delivery and postpartum recovery.

New moms and dads also find real reassurance in working with seasoned moms and grandmothers, drawing from generations of experience.

Though doulas don’t often give out black-and-white advice, but rather guid- ance and resources, they all believe in empowering parents.

Said Weinlick, “Trust yourself. The information overload in regard to pregnancy, birth and parenting is mind-boggling. It almost sets parents up for trouble. Babies are pretty simple when you learn some easy tricks!”

Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula, marketing director and writer who lives in St. Paul.