One of Doula Training International’s (DTI) fundamental teachings is the Slow Doula Method®, or SDM®. SDM® is a tool that we can all use to help us in times of stress—be it within ourselves or with our clients.
If you are a DTI doula then you are familiar with the Slow Doula Method®. If this is all new to you, then hold onto your seat. You are in for some career changing information that will assist you in both your birth and postpartum doula practices — and maybe even your personal relationships too. DTI doulas call it — SDM®
We use SDM® to foster sustainability, confidence, connectedness, and a psychology of alliance with everyone in the birth room. Michel Odent teaches us that when we release the stress hormone adrenaline in the birth room, we are stepping on the brakes in labor. He also teaches us that when we release the hormone oxytocin we are stepping on the gas pedal, and that both of these hormones are extremely contagious. We all want less brakes and more acceleration in the birth room – SDM® helps us to achieve that.
As birth doulas we need to recognize when something has been activated within ourselves that has made us anxious. We need to take a moment here—to pause and to discern, first and foremost: is this something personal, something that I can shelve for processing later, in my own time? Or, conversely, is this something that needs to be addressed now, with my client, and/or with their birth team? Only after we have determined the answer to this crucial question can we decide how to best move forward. SDM® helps us to answer this question because it enables us to step back and to look at ourselves in the moment—to slow down and to make sure that we are using our limited energies appropriately.
For a postpartum doula, SDM® is fundamentally the same as it is for a birth doula, but, since a postpartum doula takes on different tasks from that of a birth doula, the practice of SDM® will shift accordingly, depending on the one’s own particular circumstances.
A postpartum doula negotiates many experiences that a birth doula does, but not in the same ways. There are the hours spent with our clients, in their homes, in which specific family dynamics come into play—in which new roles are being negotiated and learned, in which sleep cycles are changing, and hormones are adjusting, and blood sugar levels are plummeting… SDM® offers the postpartum doula a way to stay connected to themselves, and to extend that feeling of confident calmness out to the new parent(s) and the new baby.
Below you will find some examples of how I have come to integrate SDM® into my own postpartum practice. I hope you’ll gain something from this record of a practice that is so close to my heart. And I hope that this might also start a conversation among us, in which we might share ways that we implement SDM® in our postpartum practices.
Bringing awareness to my own body, breath and thoughts:
I close my eyes, take a breath, and bring my hands to my heart. I pause momentarily—to check in with myself, and to reaffirm my intention for working with this family—before giving a knock at their door.
Recognizing anxiety and vulnerability in the new parent(s):
I pull up a chair to sit next to them (so as not to hover over them). Or I sit on the edge of the bed, and, as I ask the questions, search for the birthing parent’s leg, or foot, so I can massage them, and calm them, as I actively listen to what they have to say.
Introducing yourself to a brand-new human being, whose senses are acute, and who has just been through an incredibly arduous journey to get here:
As I pick up this fresh new bundle, I say: “Hi, Mila. I’m Jackie. Over the next three months, you and I are going to be spending a lot of time together. I hear it has been quite a journey for you to get here! I can’t wait to learn more about you.”
Normalize what the parent(s) are going through:
When the nursing parent gets up to nurse, and they are self consciously wiping sweat from their forehead, I might say: “The night sweats are so intense, aren’t they? Here’s a glass of water. Is there a towel in the closet that I can put down for you? Or perhaps I can change the sheets?”
To a partner who is feeling a little unsure of how to calm the crying baby. “You and I are in the same boat, right? We can’t just begin feeding the baby to soothe them! We need to find our own little tricks—and sometimes that takes some trial and error… That looks great, what you’re doing… Maybe put a little more bounce in your step, and your cheek to their head, so they can feel your body more…That’s it!“
Use an opportunity, either while nursing or when the baby is crying, to point out how well the baby is responding to their parent’s movements, or simply to their presence: “Oh, look how Mila quiets when she sees you. That’s so sweet!”
How would THEY do it?
When I’m asked questions about doing the first bath, or where the baby and I will sleep on night shift, or swaddling vs. not swaddling, or any other particular parenting style.
“That’s a great question. There are so many different ideas out there, right? How did you envision doing this? How would you do it? What feels good to you? Have you read anything around this topic that particularly resonated with you?”
I need to be sensitive to their pace, so that I can answer the question: How much information and/or change can the parents handle right now?
Maybe I feel like they don’t need me anymore, since the baby is so “easy.” I see their life as manageable, and they look confident, and calm. But: Is that really how they feel? Are they, despite appearing calm to me, having out of control feelings? Do they, despite appearances, not have their bearings yet? Are they ready, or not ready, to teach a nanny/babysitter about their baby? Or: Do they still feel like they want my help in translating the baby’s needs, and their own needs as parents to new caregivers? The answers to these questions, I remind myself when I practice SDM, are for the parents, not for me, to decide. That is to say, I like to let new parents fly out of the nest—and not to push them out.
Make a plan:
“The night was terrible!” the new parents tell me when I arrive. Lots of baby crying, then fighting between the parents, and now everyone is exhausted. Here I might say: “I’m so sorry! This happens in the beginning. It will get better with time. [Hand on shoulder] “Are you ok? What would be most helpful for you while I’m here today? Maybe a nap first, after that, over lunch, we can discuss some ideas about sleep?”
When I take the time to practice SDM® as a postpartum doula, I feel confident in my role. I stay curious about the family I’m serving. I know when I need to change course.
The “pause” (for self-reflection, for calming myself, which allows me to feel present, to assess, clearly, what I’m doing, what needs to be done) allows me to sense what’s going on in my body, and to notice any tensions I’m holding inside myself—tensions that might make me start my stories with a “she should,” or with a “he should,” or even with an “I should.”
If I notice, when I “pause,” that I’m thinking along these lines, then I know that I need to change course—because I’m not acting in accordance with my values, or with the values of those around me. I’m not honoring my new parents and their new baby.
My ultimate goal is this: To provide for my clients an open heart, and an open set of hands, so that they might feel supported, confident, and connected to each other and to their baby, during our time together and, ideally, going forward, in their future as well.
DTI has a set of courses for continued support in SDM® – you can find the Mini-Course here! This blog was written by Jackie Pales, who is also featured in a postpartum expert affiliate video, which is free to all DTI members. If you’re not a member yet, you can sign up here.
Jackie Davey has been a birth worker since 2011. Her company, Birth Realm Doula Services, provides postpartum care to families all over the North San Francisco Bay Area. Her passion lies in facilitating a warm nurturing environment for new parents to cultivate their own unique parenting style.