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Put me in, Coach! Parents get support from parenting pros

Published on: November 28, 2008

Parenting coachesNo question: New parents need support and lots of it. But for many Northwest parents, family and friends just aren’t available, perhaps because of location, schedule issues or something else. Luckily, these days, there’s a growing list of outside experts to turn to; experts with the necessary experience and know-how to get parents off to a great start.

Preparing for baby

Melissa Moog runs Itsabelly, a Portland, Oregon-based pregnancy-planning company with a location in Seattle. Moog says the company provides all the essentials for busy moms-to-be, including personalized shopping lists, one-on-one consultations and customized resources. And moms-to-be restricted to bed rest use baby planners to help create baby registries or set up the nursery.

Moog’s clientele consists mostly of professional, educated women in their 30s. “Sometimes our clients don’t have the luxury of living next-door to mom or sis to help them, or even friends who had a baby or are familiar with the latest in baby gear and what’s available,” she says.

When baby arrives

It’s amazing that such a small being can create such commotion. Birth brings change and transformation to every family, sometimes in unexpected ways, from colic to sibling rivalry to work-life balance.

Enter the new-parent services. Doulas, parent coaches and parent consultants provide support and advice, to different degrees.

Postpartum doulas offer breastfeeding support, pick up around the house, cook dinner and provide baby-care advice. Parents of multiples (or very fussy) babies appreciate a postpartum doula’s overnight services; the doula helps care for babies, so mom and dad can sleep.

Action-oriented coaches are focused on emotional issues during a baby’s first weeks and months. Parent coach Shannon Armitage, M.A., says that sometimes, dads are more comfortable receiving a game plan from a “coach,” instead of dwelling in and dissecting feelings, as might be expected during couples’ therapy.

And unlike therapists, new-parent consultants don’t ask you to stretch out on the couch during business hours. Instead, many work around the parents’ schedule, visiting the family at home or chatting with parents on the phone. Jennifer Watanabe, a certified parent coach with Parent Coaching Institute, often works with families by phone. “It’s a way to get help that’s very family friendly,” she says.

But it’s not like an episode of Nanny 911, Watanabe says. “I don’t roll my eyes or undermine a parent’s authority. I’m a parenting companion.”

Tina Millican, a postpartum doula and new-parent consultant, observes the family, asks questions and understands their value system before providing assistance for any issue, big or little.

And unlike one-size-fits-all baby books, she says, a baby’s individual temperament influences her advice. “I go in and see what’s going on with this particular baby,” Millican says. When there’s a mismatch between a mom’s temperament and a baby’s temperament, a coach can point out methods for resolving conflicts. “Every environment is different,” she says.

“I share my tips, thoughts and research that I learned through my experience, and guide them through the transition,” Milligan adds.

One hot-button issue: relationship changes. Millican says that during post-baby bliss, many parents stop communicating effectively. “It’s a challenge to bring them back together and communicating,” she says. But by providing tools and strategies for common issues around sleep, siblings and social connections, she helps couples reconnect.

And handling that work/life balance can be tough, too. “While staying at home with a newborn can be an intensely satisfying experience,” Armitage says, “it often comes at the cost of losing one’s sense of a personal/professional identity.”

She asks couples to imagine what “balance” would look like if it accommodated parenting, personal, professional and couple identities. Then she helps map a strategy for achieving that balance.

Why get help?

Doulas and consultants can provide support not available elsewhere. The pediatrician is often too busy for your small questions, and family and friends have an emotional investment in the advice they provide. Mom wants you to put your kids to sleep the same way she did, because to do otherwise might pass judgment on her parenting skills.

Why not just join PEPS or another support group? Millican says not every family is support-group material, perhaps because such groups aren’t suited to parents’ personalities or there’s a lack of time. The Internet and books can feel overwhelming. With coaches, “you get to spend more time with your family, not on the computer,” she says.

So Millican doles out information according to the parents’ desires, whether all at once or over a period of time. “It’s not me going in and making decisions,” she says. “Rather, [it’s] what their needs are, and to get those needs met, so they can make a decision.”

But coaches and consultants aren’t meant to be a long-term solution. “Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, a woman has answers inside her own heart on how to get home,” Watanabe says. “A parent coach helps a woman get back into her own parenting instinct and intuition,” Watanabe says, and helps both parents develop confidence in their new roles.

Lora Shinn used a postpartum doula’s services after her first child was born with a raging case of colic. Her writing can be found in magazines such as Mothering, Brain, Child, KIWI and Pregnancy. She blogs at


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