How Postpartum Doulas Support Families

By Krystle Gard, a postpartum doula with Bridgetown Baby

Why is Meghan Markle hiding for 40 days?

Being a first time parent is hard, now add living in the spotlight and it is a whole other level of scrutiny. And yet once again, Meghan Markle is pushing the boundaries of her royal position by laying in for forty days and hiring a postpartum doula. After having a strong support team for her birth, she is now creating a calm, undisturbed postpartum period for her and her new baby.


What is the first 40 days?

Megan is practicing a traditional Chinese practice called ‘sitting the month’, or Zuo Yuezi, focused on healing and bonding. The modernized version of “sitting the month” comes from the popular book, The First Forty Days; The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother. This book draws on ancient Chinese practices of taking care of women after birth and modernizes them for the present-day mother. Meghan plans to spend the first forty days after having her baby in bed and bonding. She is limiting visitors to specific days and times, she will be focusing on her physical and mental recovery and will be doing as much skin-to-skin bonding as she can. According to an article by Freya James for New Idea Magazine, “Meghan’s always been a huge fan of ancient Chinese practices and after a number of her close friends – including Amal Clooney – followed the month of confinement after childbirth and saw the huge benefits, she vowed to follow the process herself.”

Why a postpartum doula, too?

So many wonderful and spontaneous – and challenging – things are happening during the postpartum period, also known as the fourth trimester. After giving birth, there are all the physical aspects of recovery, the hormonal ups and downs, the overwhelming feeling of all the unknowns, and the reality of having a sweet new baby who is completely dependent on you for their survival.

From the partner’s perspective, many will tell you this time can be very challenging for them, too – whether it’s the changes in normal routines, dividing time between partner and new baby, or balancing the needs of the new baby and older siblings. Add on to that the lack of sleep that comes with caring for a newborn . . . it’s amazing anyone makes it out alive!

What is a postpartum doula?

Even though Meghan and Harry will have the benefit of a royal house staff taking care of many daily tasks, after the birth of her child, a postpartum doula will offer them support that is specific to the needs of this exciting – and exhausting – time for a new family.

Postpartum doulas provide evidence-based information on many things including breast or bottle feeding, emotional and physical recovery, skin-to-skin bonding for both parents, infant soothing, sleep help, and tips and tricks for newborn care. They also provide hands-on infant care during daytime or overnight shifts, allowing both parents to have time for themselves, time for other children, time for each other – and time to catch up on sleep!

Postpartum doula care improves outcomes

Postpartum doulas also support a modern variant on the tradition of “lying in.” As we mentioned above, the the lying in or “first forty days” promotes the new mom’s recovery, successful breastfeeding and bonding through a several-week period of rest and care provided by others. This extra support and time for self-care, combined with postpartum doulas’ knowledge about the “baby blues” and postpartum depression, may decrease a new mom’s likelihood of suffering from the blues.

What about Harry?

While postpartum doulas are there to “mother the mother” during a time of great transition, postpartum doulas also support the rest of the family. It is critical that partners feel supported so they can build their confidence and bond with their new child. Postpartum doulas pay special attention to the needs of the partners and other family members as well. They educate partners, siblings, grandparents and others about integrating a new baby into their lives, and they model ways to support the new mom and baby. Doulas help both parents to feel more confident in their new roles as parents or parents – and that’s good for everyone in the family.

Changing birth culture

Women like Meghan continue to grow the culture’s understanding of how important a birth plan and birth team are for a positive birth experience and now having a postpartum plan and postpartum team.  Of course, women supporting families after birth is an ancient tradition. But in today’s culture, many new families live far away from their family. Having a postpartum plan that includes “lying in” as much as possible and having the support of a postpartum doula is a modern version of our old “village.”

Many women have a hard time asking for help, even in a time of great need. They prefer to take care of someone else, and are uncomfortable receiving help. But in countless other cultures, there is a tradition of other women caring for a new mom for the first 40 days, something we have lost in our modern US culture.

“The first forty days are sacred and fleeting,” says Merriah Fairchild, Founder of Bridgetown Baby in Portland, OR. “The idea that new mothers should rest so they can heal and bond with their baby is radical in our current culture that expects modern moms to ‘bounce back’.” Fairchild continues, “Even though Megan lives in a royal bubble of wealth and privilege, she is helping shift the culture by focusing on her inner journey as a new mother instead of photo ops for the public.”

Say yes to postpartum support

Even though Meghan is living a modern fairytale and it is hard to compare our lives to hers, it’s great for high-profile women like Meghan step up and publicly say “I need help” and “I’m choosing to stay hidden.”  This can start to change the culture and make it more acceptable for others to say “yes, I need help,” and “yes, this is hard.” That is the first step for women and families to get the support we have always needed and still need to grow strong, happy families.

Krystle Gard is a postpartum doula with Bridgetown Baby in Portland, Oregon. When she isn’t writing or supporting other families during their 4th trimester, she is hopefully outdoors somewhere beautiful with her three boys (including 2 year-old twins) and husband.

Bridgetown Baby specializes in supporting families after birth with postpartum plans that enhance healing, bonding and joyful memories that will set the tone for a lifetime of connection.

Krystle Gard
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