Doula life: What is it like to be a lactating doula?

Hey, there! In case we haven’t met, or in case we’ve met but haven’t talked about my life as a lactating doula, let me introduce myself. I’m Abby Jorgensen; I’m a doula and sociologist; and I’m a nursing/pumping mom to an 18-month-old.

When I recently threw out the idea of doing a doula life series explaining what it’s like for me to be a doula, the first questions I got were,

“Not sure if this is something you’re willing to talk about, but what’s it like having a nursling while being a doula?”

“One question I have is: what do you do if you have to pump at a birth?”

I’m happy to share my experience. But, let me make the caveat that there are a lot of ways to do this and the way I’ve found that works for my family may not be the way that works for yours.

So, first of all, as a doula, a lot of my work happens over the phone or video calls. I handle that the same way I handle other things I do: interviews for my dissertation, meetings for academic workshops, community groups I host, etc. Specifically, how I handle those things: I try to time nursing or pumping sessions around those events, or I simply nurse or pump on Zoom when I need to. Most of the people who are very present in my life – my doula life and my academic life – are understanding and welcoming of the idea that I’m a working mom. (Our Provost even once interrupted her presentation to our department faculty to tell me that my daughter was adorable and to ask if, when the baby was done eating, could I please introduce her to everyone.) I’m grateful for that.

I think what people often mean when they are talking about being a lactating doula is being present at a birth while lactating, so that’s what I’ll focus on in the rest of this post.

Lactating at a birth: being on call

As a lactating doula in a time of covid, options where someone brings my nursling to me at the hospital aren’t an option. So, being on call for a hospital birth means ALWAYS have a manual pump sanitized and ready to go. And I ALWAYS include a discreet, easy-access nursing shirt in my bag.

(Massive shout-outs to Latched Mama for keeping me comfortable while lactating and living life and to my little Medela manual pump for making pumping on the go so much easier. I don’t get money for saying this, but I really love these two things.)

I also always keep milk bags in my doula bag.




Lactating at a birth: timing is everything

The trickiest part about being a lactating doula in my experience is timing a pumping session. Birth involves a lot of hormones, and that’s true both for whoever is giving birth AND for people who aren’t! So one of my goals is usually to make sure that I’ve pumped before or just as things start moving quickly. This helps prevent or minimize a birth letdown, which I assure you is a real thing.

Great times I’ve found to pump include: when parents are eating, when couples are having intimate moments, when things are starting to pick up but haven’t gotten wild yet, or when we have a particularly awesome nurse or midwives’ assistant stepping in for counterpressure while I sit back or step out.

One particularly beautiful memory I have is of pumping just after a birth with a client who was pumping for the first time.

Lactating at a birth: what about the milk?

One curious dad asked me recently, “But how long is the milk safe? What if the baby isn’t born fast enough?”

The first answer is that, as your doula, I promise you I am not sitting there, checking the clock and thinking, “Man, I wish they would hurry this labor thing up so the milk stays good!” 😂 

Seriously, I’m not. Freshly pumped milk can be left out for up to 4 hours and in a fridge for up to four days. (I’ve never had a birth go longer than four days, but hospitals have freezers, and in that case I’m set for up to six months!) I have brought a cooler with me to a hospital, but I’ve also asked nurses to store milk for me, which they have kindly done.

So,

that’s a crash course in my experience as a lactating doula. Not to, hem, •milk• this, but if you have other questions or your own experience to share, feel free to comment below!

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