“I don’t need a doula. I’m having a cesarean.”
“I’m about to do what will quite possibly be the most significant life change I’ll ever experience – becoming a mother – all while awake and having major abdominal surgery. I could definitely use some extra support.”
Which one sounds more realistic to you?
The former statement is said from a place of misunderstanding. Most people simply do not know or understand what birth doulas do. Most people think that doulas only support “natural birth” or that doulas only support home birth. Some respond with a statement like “a doula is like a midwife, right?” They simply do not know what a doula does. Who is she? What is her job? How is she different from a midwife?
The short answer: Doulas support birth. Your birth. However that looks to you, and however your birth turns out, they will support you.
A woman who is planning a cesarean birth, regardless of the reason, benefits greatly from the services of a birth doula. Prenatally, a birth doula can spend the time to carefully and thoroughly go through the cesarean procedure with her client. She can answer questions, ease her fears, educate her on what is to come, and go through her options – of which she has plenty.
For the birth, a woman planning a cesarean has more options than she may know. The birth community has recently coined the term “family centered cesarean” for surgical births to include many of the things that vaginal birth does. A cesarean birth may include skin-to-skin bonding right after birth, breastfeeding in the operating room, delayed cord clamping, allowing dad to announce the sex, and letting him cut the cord. A birth doula can go through the options with her client, help her find a provider that is going to be supportive of her wishes, and provide her with resources to prepare her for the postpartum period.
Many doulas have been able to be present during cesarean sections and the birth community at large is working hard to make this an attainable reality for cesarean mothers who desire a doula. Doulas can be a voice of support during the surgery and they can take pictures when the baby is born. They can help the mother communicate with her care team if she senses something is wrong. The doula can reassure the dad as he awaits the birth of his baby from behind the operating room theater. If a mom becomes anxious or nervous during her surgery, the birth doula can do relaxation exercises with mom to distract her from the sensations that may be bothering her. She can massage the mother’s scalp and hold her hand if dad is holding the baby.
Following the surgery, many mothers need to go to a recovery room while the baby goes to the nursery with the dad. During this time, a doula can stay with the mother as she recovers in the post-operation room so she doesn’t need to be alone. She can help dad make sure that she is doing well with the baby as they wait for mom to come out of recovery.
A tip for mothers having a cesarean: don’t let anyone bathe the baby and don’t let anyone but dad and the baby nurses hold your baby before you do. It may sound strange but hear me. When a mother is separated from her baby, as often is the case after a cesarean, her body is seeking the familiarity of what it’s missing. It looks for the baby! When a mother is handed her baby after a short separation and the baby has the fresh baby smell on them, mother’s body begins to facilitate bonding much easier. Her body recognizes the baby’s smell. If, however, she is handed a baby that smells like aunt margaret’s perfume and her mother in law’s cinnamon rolls, bonding may feel much more difficult.
Mothers report that they are satisfied with their birth – whether it is in the operating room or under the old oak tree – when they feel that they are in control of what is happening to them. A woman who is allowed to make decisions for herself and her baby all along the way will be empowered no matter where or how she births. That empowerment is what doulas want for their clients. That is why a doula is important when planning a cesarean.