I’m excited to share the next post in my series on great people and businesses working with pregnant and new parents in the DC area. I’d like to introduce you all to Nikki Wray, Co-Founder of Metropolitan Doulas.
It’s been wonderful to hear more about her story, and pick her brain on some tips for postpartum families. Nikki’s love of her work and supporting parents is one of the things that really shines through when you talk to her, and I hope this interview lets you see that.
Metropolitan Doulas Provides postpartum Doulas throughout DC, Northern Virginia, and parts of Maryland.
How did you get started as a postpartum doula? What attracted you to the job?
When I first moved to the US from England I was working as a nanny doing nanny shares in the Washington DC area. I would start when baby was 8-12 weeks old and continue until they went to daycare or preschool. One of the things that I noticed was that parents often had questions for me; "is there anything other than diaper cream that we can do to prevent/treat rashes?", "how do we start solids?", "do you know how I can pump more breastmilk when I'm working?", "how much sleep should my baby be getting and how do we get longer night stretches - I’m tired"!
When I first started, I consulted google, parenting books and forums - anything I could get my hands on to learn more. Eventually, I realized that I knew the answers and decided that I wanted to step into a more hands on role with parental support and education in the first few months.
What led you to expand and form Metropolitan Doulas?
The fact that there are only 24 hours in a day! I started working part time as a postpartum doula just to see if there was enough interest, and there was. In less than a year I quit my nanny job to work as a doula full time, and within 6 months it was clear that the amount of interest I was getting was too much for one person to handle. This is when I teamed up with Dr. Kathleen McCue to create Metropolitan Doulas. We now have over 10 regular doulas and we are still growing!
Tell me a little bit about the services you offer.
We offer in-home support after the birth of a baby, day or night. We are trained in breastfeeding support, newborn care techniques, and how to get baby into a good routine so that the family are able to get some sleep and time for self-care. We care for the whole family by offering answers to any questions they might have, newborn care while they rest, meal preparation, nursery organization, baby laundry, and more. We also offer in-home infant care and breastfeeding classes, as well as infant carrier/wrap instruction, and car seat inspections.
What are the best ways for moms to prepare for postpartum while they are still pregnant?
We actually have a free class on this! We try to offer it every 2-3 months and it's led by one of our postpartum doulas, Whitney. It's held at Lemon Tree Playgroup downtown.
I think stocking up on household necessities, automating any bill payments, taking your car in for a service early, taking care of any upcoming health appointments, freezing meals, etc. Anything that can allow you time to just sleep, eat, and take care of your baby. Also, getting together a list of resources ready for if you run into trouble. When you're sleep deprived is not the time to be trying to research mental health practitioners or lactation consultants! And of course...setting up your postpartum doula!
I know there is a lot of confusion about the difference between postpartum doulas, baby nurses and nannies. Can you help clarify the different job roles?
Postpartum doulas typically care for the whole family and are also happy to help take care of some of the household tasks such as meal prep, baby laundry, etc. They are trained in not only newborn care, but also perinatal care such as how to prevent and care for postpartum mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, OCD, etc. Doulas are trained in breastfeeding, pumping, and maternal recovery, too.
Baby nurses typically will work overnight or even stay 24hrs a day and care for the baby. Many of their duties often overlap with postpartum doula services. Sometimes baby nurses are Registered Nurses, though not always, and families should check on that if they are specifically looking for a nurse.
Nannies usually step in when the parents are both back at work, though some start earlier. Nannies will have newborn care experience, but are often following the lead of the parent and may not have the knowledge-base that doulas and baby nurses have. They may ask questions of the parents when it comes to feeding or sleep, for example, whereas with a postpartum doula the family can ask questions and know that they are getting good solid, evidence-based advice.
How do you support parents in their decisions regarding controversial parenting choices such as circumcision or vaccination?
Nothing really changes in the ways we support families. For any medical advice we refer them to their doctor or their baby's pediatrician. Our job is not to decide how our clients parent their child, it's to support them while they figure that out for themselves and decide what type of parent they want to be. If they want our (non-medical) advice we are happy to offer it, but otherwise we simply teach them how to care for their circumcised or uncircumcised baby, or how to minimize the short-term pain from vaccinations, or the risk of exposure if they choose not to vaccinate.
When it comes to breastfeeding mothers, how does a postpartum doula help facilitate that relationship while still allowing mom some rest?
Many tasks that come with caring for a newborn are not directly related to breastfeeding. Babies often cry because they have gas, or have a wet diaper, or just want to be held and to feel safe. Doulas are highly trained in recognizing these cues and can take care of baby while mom rests, all while knowing when baby needs to be brought to mom to eat. We can then bring baby to mom, wherever she is, and ensure that she doesn't have to get up to feed the baby. The doula can bring her food and water/hot tea to have while nursing, and then take baby for burping/changing while mom continues to rest or takes a moment to shower/brush her teeth.
What suggestions do you give your clients for how to handle visitors in the first few weeks after birth?
It's important to think about how helpful this visitor is going to be, or how they will make you feel. Will they bring a meal? Will they be open to folding some laundry or emptying the dishwasher? Another thing to consider is how comfortable you will feel asking them to leave. If baby is fed and sleeping, now's your time to sleep! It's important to have guests who you will feel comfortable ending the visit with, or who can stay and hang out while you nap and then resume the visit. I often hear people recommending to avoid visitors in the early weeks. I disagree with this and think that they can be incredibly helpful IF you choose wisely.
Along with that, what do you think is the best way for parents to dodge unsolicited advice from well-meaning family or friends (or strangers)?
It's hard at first! You're essentially starting a brand new job with barely any training and you have to do it while sleep deprived. Initially it can be common to experience self-doubt when you receive advice. With time, comes confidence. In the beginning I'd say just smile and say "ok, thanks", and remind yourself that they are likely well-meaning and want to help. Then, if it's something you are unsure of you can ask your doula, pediatrician, other new parents; basically, someone you trust and want the opinion of. Eventually you get into a groove and know what's right for your family, and can defend that.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I honestly sat and thought about this for a long time. I don't know, I just know that I love each and every day. Maybe feeling the energy, excitement, fear, and love in the room during the first visit after birth? Maybe the times where I show up to a tired, un-showered, hungry mom and can leave her rested, showered, fed, and with the chores done and the baby well cared for? Maybe leaving a multi-week or multi-month job where I was hired to prevent the postpartum depression and breastfeeding challenges they had the first time around, and knowing that we were successful. There are so many things that I love about my job!