Q&A: "Sleep doula"?

Stef writes:

I recently attended a "meeting" with a sleep doula with a group of friends...  I have 2 questions for you because none of my friends can answer them for me:

1.  what exactly is a doula?  is there any training, school, certification etc. required to call yourself a doula or can anyone wake up one day, print some business cards and start charging ridiculous amounts of money to dole out sleep advice to weary parents?

2.  Have you ever heard of any actual medical research studies that link pacifier use in babies under 3 to drug addiction later in life?  (Yes, this is the advice given out by the doula...)

Hahahahahahahahaha. Let me address the second question first (as I'm wont to do): No, I've never heard of this, and I call bullshit. Really? Drug addiction from using pacifiers? If there's anyone out there with actual research backing this up, please post a link, as I'd be very interested in seeing this (as would the organizations that have been recommending pacifier use as correlating with lower incidence of SIDS, I'm sure).

From a practical standpoint, some babies just have a really strong sucking need. And it's either the thumb or the pacifier, and some kids won't find their thumbs. 

Honestly, of all the things you have to worry about as a parent, pacifier use or non-use doesn't even rank as something worth spending your time on. How much sleep you're getting, the state of your marriage/partnership/singlehood, childcare, just how contaminated and unsafe every thing we eat is, global warming, unsafe toys, child labor and exploitation, skateboarding injuries, bullies at school, whether your child's hitting appropriate milestones, how the heck you're going to save for retirement, how you're going to pay your rent or mortgage next month, what's going to happen to the extra 5 pounds on your belly that won't budge since you had a baby, how to help that mom in your playgroup who seems to be flirting with the edge of PPD, the economy--all this stuff is worth thinking about. Pacifier use, notsomuch. 

Now, on to doulas. "Doula" is a Greek word meaning "woman who serves" and in its modern meaning it's someone you pay (usually) to help you with something. There are two types of doulas in common usage. the first is a birth doula, who is a woman (usually) who stays with you during labor and delivery to act as your advocate. She has to go through training in common and uncommon birth situations, and makes it so that your partner can be with you, while she helps interpret the medical stuff and helps you evaluate any choices you have to make without being biased or hampered by hospital practice.

If I hadn't had my mother with me (who is pretty educated about birth stuff and also a strong advocate for me) I'd have hired a doula for my births, and cannot recommend them enough as a way to make sure decisions are made in your best interest. Doulas are helpful whether you're having a scheduled C-section, a homebirth, a hospital birth with an epidural, or any kind of situation. They are certified by DONA International and you can read all about their standards of practice here.

The other kind of doula is a postpartum doula. Her job is to come for 3-5 hours a few days a week for a week or two or three (or six) after you have the baby to help you set up routines and get back on your feet so you can take care of your baby. She does NOT take care of the baby (except for holding the baby while you nap or shower), but instead takes care of you so you can start being the mom with more confidence. They are required to take classes in common breastfeeding problems (so they can help you know when to call in a lactation consultant or if it's something normal like cluster-feeding), newborn health issues, PPD symptoms, etc. They also do things for you like laundry, cooking (including making meals and sticking them in your freezer), cleaning, addressing thank-you cards, helping you figure out where to put all your supplies for maximum efficiency, being another adult human in the house during the day, and buffering you from people who could cause you stress in that hormone-addled newborn period.

Again, my mom served that function for me, but I would consider the money absolutely well-spent to hire a postpartum doula if I didn't have a relative or friend I could trust to help me out without adding to my stress. Postpartum doulas are also certified by DONA International, and you can read about their standards and practices here.

I have never heard of a sleep doula. My suspicion is that this is a new way of referring to someone who considers him or herself an expert in baby sleep and helping parents to get their babies to sleep. Which is a good thing. The problem, as I see it, is if a sleep doula/helper thinks that all babies can or should sleep the same way and tells parents that. Because, honestly, you could get the same guilt-inducing line by buying one of the sleep dogma books (you know the ones I mean--Weissbluth, Sears, Hogg, etc.) for a whole lot less money. If, however, the sleep doula is helping you through the process of figuring out how your particular kid is inclined to sleep and how you can work with that, then that's going to be a useful help for you.

I'd be really hesitant about trusting advice from anyone who is so anti-pacifier that they tell you pacifier use is correlated to drug use without and serious research. So, as usual, the moral of the story is Do Your Research, and if it sounds like crap to you, just say "That's interesting advice--thank you" and move on until you find something that makes sense for your particular child.

Anyone want to comment on doulas in general, or specific kinds of doulas? And, again, if there is any actual research-based evidence on pacifier use and drug use please post it.