A helping hand

More parents are bringing in hired help after baby is born, but is it worth the cost?


Danielle Braff


Instead of returning home to a house filled with crying babies after her twin girls were born, Rebecca Joslin came home to blissful silence. Well, almost.

Joslin, of Chicago, hired two postpartum doulas-one for the daytime and one for night-to help her transition after she had her C-section so that she could "regain her sanity."

The doulas, which cost about $30 per hour, looked after the babies while Joslin slept, cared for them when she wanted to take a walk and even did her laundry, made her meals and kept her company during those difficult first three months at home.

"They let me regain balance a little earlier than people who are on their own," Joslin says.

Baby nurses and postpartum doulas have long been a staple of post-pregnancy life in the Northeast, but the trend has grown in popularity over recent years and it is becoming more common for busy Illinois parents trying to find balance with a newborn to employ these hired helpers.

While baby nurses and postpartum doulas don't require any licensing or prior baby training, there's a difference in care commonly offered for both. Baby nurses, who aren't actually nurses, tend to come to the home in the overnight hours to care for the baby while the mother sleeps. If the mother is breastfeeding, the baby nurse will bring the baby into her room for feedings and then will remove the baby, change its diaper and put it back to sleep. If the mother is using a bottle, she can opt to not be woken up at all during the evening hours.

Postpartum doulas focus their care on the mother and are there for companionship, to do her laundry, wash her dishes and even do the grocery shopping.

Baby nurses and postpartum doulas are both intended to help the parents transition during the weeks after the baby is born and they can stay as long as needed.

But while some parents swear by the help they receive from the doulas and the nurses after birth, pediatricians are warning parents not to trust them with everything.

Richard Burnstine, a professor of clinical pediatrics at Northwestern University, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and pediatrician with North Suburban Pediatrics in Evanston and Buffalo Grove, says he's heard his share of horror stories.

One baby nurse decided the baby was constipated and gave the baby milk of magnesia instead of consulting with a doctor, says Burnstine, who adds that he never recommends baby nurses.

"Certainly it helps mothers to get rest, and if these people are going to take care of the minute-to-minute care particularly during the night, that's a good thing," he says. "But that's it."

Susan Smartt, a postpartum doula with Birthways in Illinois, majored in English literature in college and worked with teenage mothers through community service organizations after graduating. She took Birthways' week-long training course and while she admits she isn't offering medical services, she's learned enough to determine whether something the baby is doing is normal or whether they should see a doctor.

"A doula is not a medical care provider, but we can help to say, 'that's just a diaper rash,' " Smartt says. "The training focuses on how many wet and dirty diapers you should see and what's the normal weight gain for the baby."

Smartt says most people who hire her simply want her to hold the baby so they can have some space, to wipe down the counter tops, sweep the floors and do the laundry. They also like to talk about their birth stories with someone who understands.

Baby nurses and postpartum doulas tend to be hired before the birth and can stick around as needed, but most families hire them just for the first few shaky weeks. Parents of multiples usually use them longer, although Karen Laing, founder of Birthways, says she usually recommends three to five months for true transition help.

But the help doesn't come cheap, and it's not covered by insurance. Most of the doulas and baby nurses in the Chicago area charge about $25-$30 per hour for single babies and some charge an extra fee for overnight care in addition to a finders fee.

Tracy Wilson-Peters, executive director of the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association, says the care a mother receives from the postpartum help is priceless.

"Coming home from the hospital with a new baby is one of the most stressful and hard times in a mother's life," Wilson-Peters says. "This kind of care becomes essential for new mothers."

Danielle Braff is a freelancer who lives with her husband in Chicago. They're expecting their first child in November and are in the midst of figuring out who to hire for help when their daughter arrives.



Postpartum doulas

• Birthways. Serves Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. $27 per hour for the first 50 hours, then $25 for each additional hour. $2 extra for additional hours. Multiples cost extra, so call to inquire about your specific situation. (888) 506-0607

• American Registry. Serves the country. $600 finders fee plus $15-$20 per hour depending on experience.
(312) 475-1515

Baby nurses

• Absolute Best Care. Serves the country. Prices range from $200-$400 per day depending on the number of babies and the location.
(212) 481-5705

• Stork Plus Babies. Serves the country. $250-$300 per day for a single baby, $350-$400 for twins and $450-$525 for triplets. Or $18-$25 per hour for a part-time baby nurse.
(888) 455-1787



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