When we hear the word doula, we might immediately think drug free, water birth at home.
Why? Probably because many doulas are well educated in normal, physiological birth and are often hired by mamas interested in natural birth.
The media, and even well-meaning clients, often portray doulas as pro natural birth, pro home birth, and not necessarily helpful in medicalised births.
Generally speaking, though, that concept of doulas is a myth.
A doula’s first and foremost belief is women should be supported during pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period.
Whether the birth is an unmedicated home birth or a medicalised, scheduled c-section doesn’t really matter.
Can You Have A Doula For A C-Section Birth?
A doula is there to support you regardless of how your birth needs to unfold. But can a doula really offer worthwhile help when you’re having a c-section birth?
What Is A Doula?
Perhaps you’ve heard of doulas but you aren’t certain what they do. You know they’re involved in birth, but what exactly is their role?
Many times, doulas are confused with midwives. Both have a role in supporting the mother, but a doula is a completely non-medical support person.
A midwife provides clinical care (like an obstetrician). She monitors mother and baby for safety, and makes important decisions to facilitate the safest birth possible.
A doula provides non-medical emotional, physical and educational support to a birthing family. She provides prenatal education and helps the mother understand all her birthing options. She’s a continuous support, from the start of the birth and right through the immediate postnatal period.
Unlike most clinical providers (nurses, midwives, obstetricians), a doula stays with the mother solely to offer support as she has no other clinical tasks to attend to.
To learn more about the role of a doula, and why so many families find them invaluable, read What Is A Doula? Why Pregnant Women Love Doulas!
How Can A Doula Help If You Need A C-Section?
A c-section birth is a major surgery. Some women feel concerned that a c-section is completely like a medical surgery and very little like giving birth to a baby.
Although a c-section certainly is surgery, it doesn’t have to feel like just a medical event. Working with a doula can help you capture the feeling of welcoming your child earthside, even when it happens via surgery.
Before the big day, your doula can help you:
- Prepare emotionally for the surgery, by answering questions about what to expect and helping you come up with a list of further questions for your midwife or doctor.
- Be aware of all your options, and what you can ask your healthcare providers about – for example whether it’s possible to have a family centred c-section.
- Learn comfort measures for prodromal or early labour, as some women start labour prior to their c-section, even when it’s scheduled.
- Know what to pack to be comfortable before and after the birth.
- Prepare for breastfeeding after a c-section.
- Know what to expect during recovery, and what you can do to prepare for it.
- Prepare a c-section birth plan, which might include things like music, newborn procedures, skin to skin desires, etc.
A doula can also help you process some of the feelings you have. She’ll be a sounding board for your concerns, and help prepare your partner to support you during and after surgery.
Recovering from a c-section can be challenging. Many doulas provide in-home preparation for your recovery, by helping you plan where you and baby will sleep during the initial recovery period.
It’s wise to avoid or limit using stairs in the first week, for example, and to take lots of time to rest in bed.
How Can A Doula Help During A C-Section?
The role your doula will have depends on where you give birth, and on the anaesthetist and the surgeon performing the c-section.
Some facilities and doctors will allow your partner and a doula to be present during the entire c-section procedure.
Other facilities allow only one support person. In the event of an emergency, general anaesthesia, or other unforeseen circumstances, neither your partner or doula is allowed to be present during the actual c-section.
It all depends on your facility and your doctor but usually, during the c-section, your doula can:
- Help you remain calm and feel supported before you are prepped for surgery.
- Remind you of what to expect. Most people are afraid of the unknown, but if you know what to expect and what is normal, it can alleviate a lot of fear, tension and potential trauma.
- Provide comfort techniques and distraction when your IV is placed an if allowed, when your spinal or epidural is placed.
- Help your partner remain calm, supported and aware of what to expect and how he can best support you.
- Be your support person in surgery if your partner is unavailable. He might feel uneasy, or too scared to be present at the surgery; some people tend to pass out at the sight of blood or other medical procedures.
- Explain what’s going on, take pictures, and provide general support. Your healthcare providers are usually busy, and your partner is waiting eagerly for your baby’s arrival.
- Support you to have immediate skin to skin in the operating theatre, if allowed.
- Help baby to latch, if allowed.
If your doula can’t be present during the c-section, she might be able to:
- Remain with you during prep.
- Support your partner and help him know what to expect if he’s in the waiting area while you’re prepped for surgery.
- Provide practical support, such as running errands, or preparing for what happens after the birth.
- Join you in the operating theatre if your partner follows baby to the nursery.
- Provide post-op help, if your partner needs rest and food, etc. Many facilities don’t allow a post c-section mama to be alone with the baby for the first few hours, due to medications, limited mobility, etc.
- Help initiate breastfeeding. Nurses can support you, but they have several post-op clinical tasks to attend to. Having uninterrupted doula support for the first hour or two post-op makes initiating breastfeeding much easier.
- Make sure you and your partner are comfortable and confident in caring for your newborn in the hospital. Many hospitals have eliminated the standard nursery, and have only a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), available for infants requiring medical care.
- If your baby must be sent to the NICU or special care nursery for observation, a doula can remain with you, while your partner follows and checks on your baby.
- Ensure you have what you need for comfort and healing.
- Help you with the breast pump, if your baby remains in the nursery or NICU.
Doulas are well known for supporting unmedicated vaginal births, but they actually provide support for all births. A doula’s support can be invaluable for a c-section birth as everyone else involved is focused on clinical tasks and managing post-op surgical needs.
How Can A Doula Help After A C-Section Birth?
Any birth is a major event. A c-section birth combines a major life event, a new baby and the physical healing of a major surgery. It’s no surprise many c-section mamas find the support of a doula incredibly helpful.
Each doula supports women in different ways. Here are some examples of the kind of post c-section help your birth doula can provide:
- Checking in with you via email, text or phone while you’re still in the hospital. Having a new baby and recovering from birth can make you feel very vulnerable. Having an impartial person to provide extra support, and a sounding board, can be invaluable for mental wellness.
- Being available for questions about breastfeeding, infant care and healing, and providing referrals or resources, as needed.
- Providing a postnatal visit to debrief, help you process your feelings about your birth experience, and answer questions you might have about how things unfolded.
- Answering questions your partner might have about how best to support you, and giving him any support he needs.
- Providing tips for making sure you get adequate rest to heal and bond with your baby.
Some doulas provide only birth services; others offer postnatal services too, which many c-section mamas find extremely helpful.
If your birth doula doesn’t provide postnatal services, she can probably refer you to a postnatal doula.
What Is A Postnatal Doula?
A postnatal or postpartum doula is a trained support person. She can provide non-medical, in-home support during the first few weeks and months following a birth.
A postnatal doula is also an extra set of knowledgeable hands, a sounding board, and an infant care provider. She will help you get the rest you need to heal, and time to spend bonding with your baby.
After a c-section, this support can be vital. A postnatal doula’s care usually involves:
- Providing infant feeding education and support as you establish breastfeeding.
- Being an extra pair of hands as you prepare baby’s sleeping space, clothes, and other items.
- Infant care education.
- Caring for your infant so you can catch a nap, shower, or eat a meal with two hands.
- Making sure you get good nutrition, by preparing meals, running errands, or arranging a meal service.
- Helping you balance infant care and self-care between her visits, with information about babywearing, safe co-sleeping, or meal preparation.
- Advising your partner how best to support you – for example, packing you a meal before he goes to work.
- Helping you make your home rest and baby friendly, by setting up ‘nesting’ stations throughout the house – with a stash of diapers, wipes, spare sleepers, receiving blankets, non-perishable snacks and water. Your doula can set them up and restock them at each visit. This allows you to focus on rest and healing and feeding your baby, whether you’re in the living room or in bed.
- Providing support for your other children, and helping them adjust to life with a new addition to the family.
- Almost any non-medical service to support you as you heal, bond with, and care for your baby.
Each doula offers unique care; check to see which services she provides.
To learn more about postnatal doula support, read Postnatal Doulas – 8 Reasons Why You Should Hire One
How Can I Find A Doula?
There are many ways to find a doula. Some women prefer word of mouth. You can ask your friends, midwife or obstetrician whether there are any doulas they would recommend.
You can also use doula organisations to find trained or certified doulas. An online listing isn’t a personal recommendation, but you can find many wonderful doulas through online searches, including BellyBelly’s Marketplace.
It’s important to have a doula you can connect with. These articles might help, as you look for the right one for you: