On Friday we stopped breastfeeding.
31 months and 1 day.
2 years and 7 months and 1 day.
One of the longest, most rewarding, and most fulfilling jobs I have ever had. Yes : I said “jobs” – because whilst it was wonderful and tender and wrought with hormones and body doubt and body gratitude and self doubt and self care and self neglect and ideological ambition and realistic set backs and unwaivering perseverance and effortless ease and sublime miraculous grace : it was work. Holy work. I do see it as me having chosen to take on a job to nourish you, my child. A job commissioned by nature to fulfill as long as we both enjoyed the process and relationship of nourishing and nurturing / drinking and receiving. It was nourishment and nurturing of a complex and multifaceted nature. A journey and a relationship shrouded in blissful connection and sometimes underpinned by deep struggle. A journey that has naturally ended at the perfect moment; for both of us.
I still can’t quite believe that it is over; and to be honest it isn’t quite “over” as we are still talking about it between us: still touching Ninnie and feeling together how Ninnie is changing, laughing together at the incredulity of there being no more milk drinking. Ninnie is your name for my milky breasts – you know the word “breasts” but refer to my breasts (still now a few days later) as Ninnie.
If anyone would have told me when I was a few weeks pregnant that I would breastfeed you for this long I would have laughed in their face(!!!) I thought I would breastfeed for 9-12 months until you transitioned into food, and didn’t need the calories anymore….but then there you were, and my natural instincts blossomed and my rational mind was convinced after doing the research….and there you were: relishing the milk. Loving your safe haven from the exciting world, your body growing and flourishing so powerfully, your immunity and your health so strong – your desire to continue so palpable as each and every time you arrived at the breast your body relaxed and your nervous system reset.
We breastfed through a lot. We breastfed through our mutual recovery from a Caesarean birth after a long labour; for a few days we supplemented here and there as my milk supply came through – and despite the gruelling pumping schedule we breastfed through it. We breastfed through your Upper Lip Tie and for 9 weeks we breastfed with a nipple shield. We breastfed through the protracted death of my granny; your great grandmother. We breastfed through your first teeth, and your first mild fever. We breastfed through the arrival of each and every tooth that arrived – and at 12 months you had 14 teeth…each one bringing fresh chafing for my resilient nipples. we breastfed through the second level three day doula training I attended when you were 12 weeks old – your loving aunty bringing you at breaks and lunchtime. We breastfed through the flashbacks I started to have as part of the PTSD that was triggered in those first few months post partum; we breastfed through the ensuing migraines. We breastfed through a move to the UK for a few months; through the emotional rollercoasted that turned out to be. We breastfed through our happy return to Amsterdam. We breastfed through the first student births I attended, we breastfed through the “interuption to service” that the births and the hospital internships brought. You even had the privilege of breastfeeding from a friend whilst I was at the first full overnight birth. We breastfed through your first virus and your salmonella. We breastfed through your learning to walk and your increased sleep talking – thankfully no sleepwalking yet. We breastfed through the uncertain months of the beginning of self employment; me often reassured that whilst I wasn’t able to afford to put organic food and line caught salmon on our table as I had wanted – at least I could still offer you the breast -and that was as close to organic as it gets right?! We breastfed through your start at nursery, we breastfed through your decision to use the potty and the toilet. We breastfed though 2 years and 7 months of single parenting; and whilst a lot of parents in partnerships may not understand that there is a difference…that is no mean feat!
So how did it all come to an end?
On Friday night as we went about settling down for sleep after stories and tooth brushing; you said “Big Ninnie first” and out of nowhere I heard myself say “It is almost time to stop breastfeeding Jasper. You are a really big boy now, you can do so much for yourself, and Ninnie’s job is done – you don’t need to drink Ninnie anymore.” Your concern was initially mainly if you could drink from Ninnie tonight – naturally – your primary concern at 2y 7m is the present and immediate moment and the moment playing out in such a way that pleases you!!!
I cherished you as much as you would let me whilst you drank. I stroked your toddler head, your long blonde hair – totally different from the dark dark brown head of hair you were born with. I felt the size of your head; the solidity of it. I reminisced back to the first days of our journey when despite weighing 4.448kg at birth; you felt so tiny and fragile in my arms next to my blossoming bouncing balloon like breasts. I felt the full length of your little but solid toddler body next to mine and realised happily that you too will probably remember our breastfeeding journey in the longer term. This makes me so happy.
I have whispered into your ears at various points in the days since with tears in my eyes and my throat choked; “Ninnie will always love you – even though there is no more milk for you to drink; you can still put your head on the soft roundness and remember all the lovely milk you have enjoyed.”
The next night as we turned out the light after stories I invited you into my arm for a cuddle and you said; “Can I have Ninnie?” I smile in the half light (expecting the worst) and say “Oh no – we have stopped drinking Ninnie remember?” Tired after a lovely long day you say; “Oh yeah!” and lie back in your sheepskin.
Falling asleep the next afternoon; you are fidgetty and can’t get comfortable. You lie vertically on my body, your head over my heart, your arm outstretched over “Big Ninnie” (my right one) and fall asleep like that. I cherish the closeness; my heart hurting for you a little. Is it my projection or is this you searching for reassurance?
Last night you tried again – with a knowing and cheeky grin as you ask; “Can I have a little drink?” I laugh and say “Noooooo – the milk is gone now….”
“A tiny drink? A really really short drink?” you venture.
I reply with a clear voice defying my mental uncertainty; “Oh that would be so nice wouldn’t it; but Ninnie doesn’t have milk anymore – feel how wobbly they are now! They are very different now….” I’m half wondering if I should actually offer you some but the dread of the feeling of the dwindling milk being drawn up through the already very different feeling ducts persuades me not to(!)
I am so PROUD of you that you seem able to navigate this change with such confidence. Seeking out affirmations of our love and attachment, yes, but in what seems to be a secure manner. Our relationship is changing again – again! Oh how the wonderous journey of parenthood embodies the only certainhood we have in life: that nothing is certain – that nothing lasts forever.
In these last days of our breastfeeding journey (is it appropriate to say “The Wrap Up”?!?! Too soon maybe?!?!) I have laughed, I have cried, I have massaged and soothed my breasts in deep loving gratitude, I have reflected a lot on what the breastfeeding journey has meant for me, what I hope it has meant for you, and what it has meant for us as a mother and son. There are so many memories – some fleeting and funny, some raw and intense, some euphoric, some I have shared with others, some that will simply remain between you and I; and some that I hold close in my own heart just for me. It is also incredibly beautiful; that on the day that our journey stopped – the breastfeeding journey of a dear dear friend and her absolutely scrumptious newborn daughter began. The cycle continues!
I want to end with gratitude. Gratitude for you and your unwaivering determination from just minutes old, gratitude for your grunting and sucking and stroking and patting and burping and slurping, gratitude for my breasts and my body, gratitude for the healing nature of our “successful” breastfeeding journey after a birth journey that wasn’t what I had hoped for us, and last but not least – deep gratitude for all the people around us. The women, the dearest friends and family, the birthworkers and teachers, and the supporters who made our journey possible with their glasses of water, the delicious nibbles and snacks, the warming tea, the hand on the shoulder, the gentle reminders about techniques in those early days. Gratitude for their understanding when everything stopped so that I could sit down and nourish you; the knowing loving glances in cafes; the spoken words of tenderness, encouragement and support on the days when I was hollow eyed and “over it”; and everybody and every act of support in little and big ways since: THANK YOU.
image credit: chainimage.com
As I mentioned in a blog post on my professional Facebook page a couple of months ago; I heard myself referred to as “The Trauma Doula”. This is not because I inflict trauma upon my clients you understand (!) but more because I have chosen to specialise in supporting women (& their partners) in unravelling traumatic experiences and their impact on the journey of pregnancy, childbirth and the post partum period. So around and about Amsterdam I speak a lot about Birth Trauma, about VBAC, about Caesarean Birth, about sexual abuse, about domestic abuse and about the ways and means we have at our finger tips to support our hearts, bodies and minds in unpicking the thread that these types of trauma can weave through our experiences of these special moments in our lives.
Anyhow, I digress! Never having really had a “nickname” because Ilena doesn’t really rhyme so easily with other words; (someone did unsuccessfully attempt to spread “Ilena the Painer” some 22 years ago) I decided that “The Trauma Doula” was also not really one I was keen to perpetuate within the Amsterdam Birth Network or the wider network of families and parents-to-be.
So it got me thinking….what would I like to have as my nickname or “trademark”? To mention but a few fabulous doulas in Amsterdam with nicknames; the wonderful Maartje de Bruijn-Bruning from MotherMe is referred to as “The Duracell Doula” due to her unwavering high energy support, my beloved and multi-talented mentor Jennifer Walker has recently become “The Spinning Babies Doula” due to being one of seven approved Spinning Babies trainers, and the lovely Wendy van der Zijden IS “Holistic Doula”,due to her passion for all things natural and holistic, so what would I (or others) coin as a nickname for myself?
Well after waiting a few months for an answer, earlier this evening it struck me:
Am I “The Chameleon Doula”???
Now in other contexts of life, the notion of being a chameleon might not work so well: who would want a dentist come gynaecologist come antiques dealer to fill in a root canal? Who would trust a baker come plasterer come politician? What about a chemist come footballer come gardener? Maybe not….(!)
In the world of birth keeping however, I believe passionately in the value and significance of this ability to camouflage into the surroundings, and shape shift as appropriate. For me it is important that as a doula I can support you in a homebirth setting, in a hospital induction, in a water birth at a birth centre, or in a planned caesarean birth – all equally.
Now what does that actually translate into in terms of what I actually do during birth support? Let me be clear and tangible :
- I love space clearing with sage, palo santo or incense
- I love to offer insight into herbal teas and mineral supplements
- I love to sit with you as you learn about the physiology and chemistry of birth
- I love to use yoga principles to help you stretch out the body
- I love to hear your feedback after having reviewed the lastest scientific research on Vitamin K
- I love to sit with your midwife as you present your preferences for your care
- I love to help you pack your birth centre bag
- I love the curious and sometimes intense taxi ride to the hospital
- I love to coach you through the fears and doubts that arise as you navigate those final cms in your living room
- I love to bust out the essential oils for you as you’re hooked up to the CTG
- I love brushing your hair and applying make up as you enjoy the relief of the epidural
- I love to heat up your body with my warm hands as I channel the healing and rejuvenating energy of Reiki through your body
- I love to talk you through what I can see as you lie back on the operating table ready to meet your baby
- I love chanting with you as you prepare to bear down and push
- I love to coach you through the mental blocks like a hockey coach as you continue to push like you never did before
- I love to capture your incredulous awestruck face as you take in the face of your baby in person
- …and I love everything in between! I have to shape shift pretty dramatically in one birth between all of these tasks.
My clients reflect this chameleon like appearance; I serve artists and corporate lawyers, recruitment consultants and managing directors, performance coaches and stay at home parents….and every professional and non professional parent in between. Religious parents, atheists; trilingual expat parents, parents fluent in the local dialect; parents who prefer allopathic medicine to parents who utilise holistic medicine; etcetera. All of these individuals have sought support in pregnancy, birth and postpartum parenting….none of them can be labelled in any one way – and here their “job titles” and some “parenting choices” are just a couple of reflections of who they are or what is important to them.
Surely I have to be a chameleon then?!
I was incredibly lucky to have experienced a shape shifting or chameleon like birth story for my first child…it was like a four part story: through a home birth, an undisturbed hospital water birth, a full working day of the full casacade of interventions, culminating in a beautiful if unexpected Caesarean birth. Being a chameleon as a professional doula in Amsterdam means that I can support you in any birth setting, through any change of plan, through any and every choice you make, and through any outcome – always unconditionally and non-judgementally.
I realised through my own personal experience the true value of having birth support who can comfortably switch birth settings, who can effortlessly adjust to the mood and atmosphere as birth unfolds and everything shifts dynamically. For me the ability to be a chameleon seems intrinsic to the nature of a birth keeper…to be a professional who can shape shift easily and effortlessly and yet hold true to the core essence of their values and beliefs.
What does the core essence of my professional pledge look like?
Unconditional and continuous support
Non-judgemental support; I have no agenda
An open mind, an open heart and open hands
Respect and reverence for the uncertainty and miracle of the journey of birth
Positive and empowering communication
No protocol or prescription for care; on the proviso that it is clear that my support is non medical by definition
Whatever my personal choices might be in my pregnancy, during the unfolding of my birth stories, and as a parent I hope they don’t influence whether or not you decide to hire me…I would like to think that I have a successful and demonstrable track record in providing support as outlined above to all families who hire me; whatever their choices.
If you would like to enquire about the flexible and interchangeable services of The Chamelon Doula (!!!) then please email me to organise an introductory meeting where we can explore what doula support could look like for your family.
I’m often torn between sharing my personal stories or not – torn from a professional perspective and torn from a personal perspective. From a professional perspective as doulas we are taught that in the name of providing non judgemental and unconditional support we must be cautious when sharing personal stories so as to keep things neutral and therefore to not form ideas in our clients’ or network’s minds as to “what kind of doula” we are. As a coach I am a firm believer in authenticity: as I am all about authentic and wholehearted loving and living, in both my role as a coach and as a doula. So from that perspective personal story sharing is up there as a foundation of authenticity.
Personally I also hate that feeling when you’re trying to share your truth and someone shares or “over” shares and kind of over looks your experience; and that is the last thing I would want to do intentionally; to friends and acquaintances and of course to clients. Of course sometimes some parts of our personal histories are just that: personal. Intimate. Things we don’t necessarily want to share.
So when I saw that the UN was promoting the sharing of ‘brelfies’ to support World Breastfeeding Week 2016, after an initial reaction of positivity and gratitude once again for social media and how wonderful it can be when used as a tool to promote awareness and positivity, then I got that torn feeling about what I was going to do with it “professionally”.
Without going into the ins and outs of what has been a hectic week, I pressed pause on the whole thought process and got on with life. But today I decided it was time.
I had a moment this afternoon to filter through all my photos from 2014 (the year my son was born – there are literally thousands!!!) and find my very first brelfie. It made me cry. Now admittedly – it’s not actually a brelfie, as my beautiful little sister took it for me – but it is also coincidentally a photo of the very first time I breastfed outside the rosy newborn cocoon of love which my beautiful apartment had become since my bouncing baby boy arrived earthside.
I can see on my face and my body remembers and feels all of this when I look at the photo:
pride love surprise nervousness gratitude
the newness the let down reflex the nipple shield
the sibling love
(my sister and brother had travelled to come and meet their nephew together)
trepidation my fuzzy new mum brain warm fuzzy feels
oxytocin the weight of his newborn self self conscious
the props to support feeding after my caesarean birth
my shiny sweaty skin as I was still having a huge hormonal temperature peak when I got the let down reflex
hope the rosy glow of new parenthood the smell of his milk drunk
tiredness the sleepy high of breastfeeding the relief of the silence as he drinks
the smell and taste of a deliciously naughty but nice sickly sweet starbucks coffee
Why did I decide to share in the end?
Because I am so proud of our breastfeeding journey; and because that photo is one of the first photos of our journey. For me, breastfeeding has been a rollercoaster of liking and loathing and triumph and tribulation and pride and shame.
Yes I said shame – and my most embarrassed moment in my breastfeeding journey came last week at the zoo here in Amsterdam. I continue to feed my son and for some that is confronting – we dont see toddlers breastfeeding often enough and different pockets of society have a lot to say on the topic. A woman and her friend were approaching, and one of them looked closer and realised that what could have easily been miscontrued for simply a cuddle, was in fact me breastfeeding my toddler. The first friend sniggered, and pointed out very cattily what was going on. The second woman blatantly threw a pointed look of disgust in our direction, not once, not twice, but three times in the space of the next 5 minutes. My friend sat next to me was ready to jump up and confront the woman, but I urged her not to as I was so taken aback and so upset. And yes – I felt ashamed.
So maybe it is also that experience which makes me boldly stand up and share the very first (public feeding) brelfie I have; because I look back on the whole journey and am very grateful, very proud, very happy, and because realise I am very privileged and lucky to have had the resources available to me to overcome the difficulties, to ensure that my breast milk and my own health remained the healthiest choice all this time, and to keep encouraging me through the moments when it was tempting to give up.
I would love to see your brelfies, and would love it if you would share your brelfies out and about in the virtual world to normalise the sight of breastfeeding and to support and encourage new mothers out there navigating the newness of breastfeeding or navigating the toe durling ouchy moments or navigating the sleepless torture of night time cluster feeding.
Disclaimer: As a doula in Amsterdam, I support you in whatever choice you make about feeding your baby. Your body, your baby: YOUR CHOICE.
I’m guessing you are here because your birth story included a Csection. Perhaps it was planned, perhaps not. Either way you are now healing from major surgery. OK, I know that technically speaking a Csection is not “major surgery” because the uterus – the giver and nurturer of human life – is not considered to be a “major” organ?!?! I am a woman, a mother, a feminist, and a doula in Amsterdam; and because I am writing this post we will define a Csection as major surgery here.
So you are healing from major surgery whilst also facing those intense cocooned days of living with your newborn baby, waiting for milk to come in, comforting and feeding your newborn baby, trying to remember to eat and drink enough yourself, not to mention your whole body and system recovering from 8/9/10 months of pregnancy…..
all. at. the. same. time.
Now, as many clients and friends will testify, I am a great believer and fan of the body’s ability to heal itself miraculously – but given that there is so much going on for you after having had a baby, a major surgery and a major rite of passage – a little helping hand to support it in it’s recovery and reacclimatisation can go a long way to a happy healthy postpartum period.
Here beneath you will find a comprehensive list of holistic healing tips to help your body, mind and soul heal and thrive following a Caesarean birth.
# Bed and bedroom # Rework it for practicality’s sake. Leaving the remarkable ease of a hospital bed with hoists and levers and buttons to raise you up and down to your heart’s content can be a big shock to the system. When you arrive home head straight to your bedroom with someone on hand to do the heavy lifting (in NL we are so lucky to have Kraamzorg for this support) and make the necessary adjustments.
- Make sure baby is close; to you and/or your partner. Consider safe co-sleeping to make sure they are really close. Having baby as close as possible will limit the moments where your heart might break a little bit as you are struggling to get up and reach baby.
- Get something to step up onto your bed if it’s high, something strong and sturdy to hold on to as you lower yourself if it is low.
- Set up an adequately sized bedside table (this may mean drafting in a larger or wider temporary table) which is big enough to house a big bottle of water, a tea pot full of tea (see below), a breast pump or a baby bottle, your mobile phone and it’s charger (maybe you will need an extension lead), a lamp suitable for use in the night, a muslin cloth, pain meds, and if there is any room left – a little bowl of healthy nibbles to be topped up by your loved ones every 12 hours – think fresh fruit, nuts, crackers, dried fruits, dark chocolate (it helps the oxytocin keep on flowing and boosts serotonin don’t you know?!)
# AIR to the wound as much as possible # Lie down whilst baby sleeps or is carried by your partner and just let clean dry air reach the wound – in the very immediate days that might mean that you need to hold the belly up off the wound as your body begins to reacclimatise to not having a full pregnant belly anymore. NB. If you have been advised to have the wound covered for the first 3 – 5 days – perhaps simply allow for 30 minutes to an hour in between dressing changes to let the air get to it. Please note I also advise against using a hair dryer to “blow dry” the wound. There can be all kinds of particles in the air, which when heated and concentrated into a directed stream of air toward the incision can be completely inconducive to successful wound healing.
# Nothing more than water! # In the first couple of weeks water is all that is needed to wash the wound; and the most important thing: dry it scrupulously (moist patches of skin can be breeding ground for fungal infection; see aromatherapy hacks for antifungal oils) – see the old cotton sheet tip hereunder – these strips can make soft, clean and reusable drying cloths too.
# Pain medication # Keep on top of the dose for the first few days. Double check with your healthcare providers if the pain relief you are prescribed is compatible with breastfeeding. Many medications work by building up a certain level in the blood; so when you take a dose set an alarm or get someone to remind you when you are due to take the next dose in order that your dose remains on an even keel and so that you don’t get caught unawares by intense pain.
# Big ‘Bridget Jones’ knickers # When lying naked in bed skin to skin with baby isn’t possible for whatever reason – big Bridget Jones knickers to the rescue. At least 5cm above your belly button (if you can find them!!!), 100% cotton, at least two sizes larger than you would normally wear (they will help keep the sanitary towels in place too!) and if you can bear it; have someone take a photo of you doing your most seductive hip shaking in these pants – so you never forget the comfort of these hip huggers!
# Rip it up # Additionally, tear up or cut up an old cotton sheet – get it washed in a hot hot wash (60 degrees plus) and tear it into strips about 15cm x 25cm in size, to fold or roll up and to tuck between your wound and the aforementioned Bridget Jones knickers.
# One step at a time # Keep moving. Slowly but surely, a little bit more each day. Keeping moving helps our whole body to heal, regulate and keep functioning optimally through good circulation and good flow of the lymph and other fluids. Keeping mobile can also help to prevent a build up of trapped gases. You don’t need to head out of the door if you don’t feel ready, but stroll around the house, if you have a garden have a wander in the garden. Don’t carry or lift anything heavier than baby though remember, and do what you need to do to help your body feel safe and supported; even if that means physically holding your abdomen with your hands as you walk for a few days.
# Sleep When Baby Sleeps # The original and best restorative modus operandi for our bodies. Potentially easier said than done with a newborn baby; so I mean it when I say “Sleep when baby sleeps!” The washing, the cleaning, the ironing, the phonecalls, the social media updates can all wait: sleep is where the healing is at!
# “It takes a village” # Every family needs extra help after the birth of a newborn, but following a Caesarean birth, with rest being as fundamental to physical healing as it is; organising a meal train, or someone to come and entertain siblings or the dog, someone to put a load of washing on and peg yesterday’s load out on the line (you get the idea) can really make a difference to your peace of mind and the logistics of those early weeks. I can’t speak for elsewhere but I know that here in Amsterdam and elsewhere within The Netherlands, we have some incredible mother-led communities and organisations being initiated by volunteers that are easily accessible for all. You can find the Postnatal Support Network of Amsterdam here, and I have no doubt that you will find someone in your area that can point you in the right direction for help and support. If not: reach out to friends. You can set up a WhatsAp or Facebook group for those friends in your circle who can offer some support and get used to asking for what you need during the coming few days, weeks and months.
Food & Drink
# Water Water Water # Aim to drink at least 2 litres of pure water a day (on top of teas and broths). This is essential for rehydrating after surgery and a hospital stay which can be notoriously drying for the body. It also helps prevent infection, flush out inflammation and traces of analgesia and antibiotics, help keep the bowel and urinary tract moving and flushing, along with providing enough hydration as your body begins to produce breastmilk too!
# Wholesome Good Food # This is important however you give birth, but especially after a Caesarean. A varied, well balanced diet rich in protein, good fats, minerals, vitamins and fibre will help your body attribute the necessary nutrients to all the different bodily functions happening at once (as mentioned above). Foods which help to fight inflammation are also helpful for your body right now.
Spicy / Herbal Hacks
Get the kettle on! Tea time!
Nettle tea, dandelion tea, fennel tea and breastfeeding teas such as the Weleda tea will all help to promote breastfeeding but also assist your body in flushing out all the excess fluids your body produced during pregnancy, aswell as help your body cleanse out all the pain medication, anaesthetics, antibiotics and IV fluids that you may have received during the Caesarean and immediately afterwards.
Warming spices: ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, turmeric – hello Chai latte! In Traditional Chinese Medicine giving birth to a baby represents a serious interuption to the flow and force of one’s qi or “chi” as we commonly say in the West. It is therefore considered essential to post partum healing to replace the lost heat after any birth, but giving birth via major surgery is considered an even greater deficit in chi.
Also worth noting: turmeric is not only a warming spice but one of nature’s greatest anti inflammatory substances (over the counter anti-inflammatories include Advil/Nurofen/Naproxen), and is a galactagogue (a substance which encourages the production of breast milk) so turmeric can truly have a multitude of highly beneficial side effects. See this link for a wonderful recipe for a rich nourishing turmeric “golden milk” at no. 7 & a simple but tasty turmeric tea at no. 1 It is worthwhile noting that Turmeric is best absorbed by the body when paired with black pepper; again more info via the link above.
Raspberry Leaf Tea – whilst after any other type of birth I would encourage the use of Raspberry Leaf Tea, following a Cesarean I would encourage caution. Longer term certainly helpful as it is such a wonderful uterine tonic at any stage of a woman’s life, however for the first six weeks following the operation I would personally be limiting this tea to once every few days.
Peppermint Tea or Peppermint Oil – whilst normally both peppermint tea and oil would be wonderfully helpful after surgery on or around the abdomen for gas or trapped wind, following a C-section during the period of time where you are likely to be trying to initiate breastfeeding – peppermint oil is understood to interrupt milk supply and production. See instead the aromatherapy section further down the thread.
Find the position that works the best for you and your baby. Maybe it is sat upright holding baby in the “rugby ball” position. Perhaps you can lie on your side with baby adjacent to you (this might not be possible immediately after a Cesarean). If you are sitting cross legged it can be really wonderful to put a cushion or pillow underneath each of your knees as it takes the strain off your abdomen. If the breastfeeding pillow which you bought with every good intention in the world isnt working for you – don’t hesitate to try without!
Please head over here to KellyMom.com (a great source of breastfeeding information and support) for their take on setting yourself up for successful breastfeeding after a Caesarean birth.
Milk Production/Pumping – I just want to be upfront and honest that milk production can take a little longer following a Caesarean (and analgesia); and so pumping might well be suggested to “improve” or hasten milk flow by increasing milk removal; especially helpful in the early days when you and baby are both learning how to breastfeed. Please don’t despair, this does not mean that “you can’t breastfeed after a Caesarean”, this does not mean your breasts “aren’t working”. In those early days it can feel like you’re climbing a mountain on your hands and knees, but keep in mind that in fact it is the first 8 weeks post partum which determines your milk production and flow, and each day you are probably noting that you feel a little bit better, a little bit stronger: have faith – this too shall pass! All that said, given that it can be more difficult to initiate breastfeeding after a C-Section, if you have any pain or doubts about baby’s latch or your breasts, then make sure to consult a well recommended Lactation Consultant or Peer to Peer Breastfeeding Counselor to iron out any issues before they take route. Lastly; due to the IV fluid that you receive when you undergo a Cesarean birth combined with the fact that baby doesn’t withstand the compression of a vaginal birth; babies born via Csection can have a slightly higher birth weight than their vaginally born counterparts. This can in turn mean a slightly elevated weight loss in the early days…remember to bring this into any conversation about baby’s weight loss (even if it’s just a personal reminder to reassure yourself) and perhaps consider waiting one more day before intervening with supplementation.
Probiotics – after having been exposed from the inside out to bacteria which are so different from our own microbiome in an operating theatre, and then receiving a big dose of antibiotics; taking probiotics in the form of supplements, or drinking yoghurt or water kefir, or eating fermented foods like Sauerkraut can really help mothers and their babies readjust their microbiome from the inside out. Studies are showing us that our guts are fundamental to good health, and unfortunately also show that having a Csection can have a detrimental effect on our babies’ gut health. I say “can have” because I believe that we can redress this difference. The probiotics have a great impact on breastmilk milk quality but also on our internal healing as they can help to reduce gas, constipation and bloating which are common post surgery side effects. Of course if you choose to feed formula then supplementing your baby with a dose of probiotics for babies is a healthy supplementation. I personally have had positive experiences using Bio-Kult and ABC Dophilus probiotic powder for babies from Solgar.
“Skin to Skin” – this is so helpful for promoting bonding, breastfeeding hormones, improving the microbiome of the infant and mother, regulating temperature of mother and baby, and don’t get me started on the yummy squishy smell of the newborn. (Be still my ovaries!) Make sure your room temperature is warm enough, and snuggle up together in bed – include your partner too!
When using essential oils on the skin they should always be diluted in a carrier oil. Good carrier oils include coconut oil, sweet almond oil and grapeseed oil; all of which are readily available – some even in super markets.
Immediate post partum the ways that aromatherapy can work are not related to the wound but more to the healing going on in the abdomen, specifically helping to eliminate trapped gases or constipation with gentle light touch massage around the upper abdomen.
Fennel, cardamon, ginger; all helpful should there be any trapped gas, or constipation. If you’re feeling a little warm or your temperature is up then fennel with it’s slightly cooling properties would be a wiser choice. The other blessing here is that all three of these herbs and spices are traditionally used as galactogogues – substances that promote and enhance milk production. Please remember that the key to increasing milk production is milk removal (which is where pumping can be very helpful to maintain a regular rhythm on top of feeding baby on demand). To take a galactogogue, either as a herb, essential oil, or tea; but not maximise the milk removal can result in engorgement, and other related issues – which is the last thing you want when you are already recovering from major surgery and learning how to breastfeed!
Please note it is wise to use only one drop of whichever one essential oil you choose to use on your body, as new mothers and their babies remain very sensitive to smells of all kinds (it is nature’s way of protecting the newborn). Dilute even one drop with a small teaspoon of carrier oil.
Rose, lavender, and chamomile to relax and restore. Bergamot and/or neroli to lift the spirits during the day. These essential oils could be used on a warm or cool compress on your face or your neck, or could be diffused gently in the room. Again; less is more.
Following the first 6 weeks of healing the wound should be healing nicely – or certainly appear to be doing so from the outside. From the six week point in the healing process, gentle massage and wound care on the skin can be supportive in successful longer term healing. Once again; go gently with the dosage – start with just one drop of whichever oil you choose in a teaspoon of carrier oil. Also, go gently with your touch and pressure – be mindful of how your wound is feeling. Start out for the first couple of months with light touch massage once or twice a week gently increasing if it feels comfortable; and then 3-4 months post partum introduce massage with an electric toothbrush or a vibrator (yes a vibrator!) if it feels comfortable for you. The gentle pulsation of the toothbrush or vibrator is thought to discourage adhesions from forming amongst tissue and organs.
Frankincense – a healing essential oil with antiseptic, antibacterial and anti fungal properties, it is also a cicatrisant (which means it promotes effective healing and regeneration of the skin/wounds/scars). It is also an effective digestive oil; when used externally through massage it can help to relieve trapped gas.
Lavender – wonderfully calming (but not necessarily the best essential oil to promote sleep as it actually improves mental function), antibacterial, antiviral and proven to be an effective essential oil for pain relief. It has also been understood to speed up the healing process of wounds, cuts, burns, and sunburns because it improves the formation of scar tissue.
Chamomile – antidepressant, antispasmodic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, and cicatrisant (see above), wonderful for promoting skin healing and regeneration too; calming properties for even the most sensitive skin.
Carrot Seed Oil – antiseptic, antiviral & disinfectant, carminative (removes stubborn trapped gases), It stimulates both circulation and metabolic function; which in turn can promote good healing. Carrot Seed essential oil stimulates the growth of new cells and tissues. It also tones the skin and prevents it from hanging loose or showing signs of aging. It has a soothing earthy aroma and is known to promote relief from stress and anxiety, which having a refreshing effect on the emotions.
One last word of caution; even after the 6 weeks…go gently; especially if you are breastfeeding. One or two drops in a heaped teaspoon of carrier oil is more than enough. The body is so sensitive for the first 4 months after giving birth; and whilst essential oils are natural, they are powerful and can impact on the function of the uterus and the production and regulation of hormones amongst other things, so over use can result in heightened sensitivity.
I carry the Helios Homeopathic Childbirth Kit in my doula bag – always! I know many other doulas do, and I find it to be very helpful during all stages of labour, birth and post partum parenting. It has five powerful remedies in an adequately potent dose to assist inside out healing following a Cesarean Section too.
Arnica: a common addition to many first aid kits, Arnica is useful for all new injuries, and can help reduce soreness, bruising, tissue damage, and bleeding related to surgical procedures. Very helpful for alleviating bruising, swelling, and soreness during recovery from most surgeries.
Bellis perennis: commonly referred to as Bellis Per. Useful when bruising and trauma occur to soft tissue, and/or to deep internal tissues after surgery involving the abdomen, breasts, or trunk-especially if a feeling of stiffness or coldness has developed in the area.
Calendula: to help complete the healing of deep wounds (a Csection incision means cutting through seven membranes) along with preventing inflammation, suppuration and infection at the site of the wound. Calendula also helps prevent keloid formation of the scar.
Staphysagria: useful when pain persists at the site of a surgical incision, or after procedures that involve the stretching of a sphincter muscle. It is also indicated after surgeries involving reproductive organs (prostate surgery, hysterectomy, C-section, episiotomy) or the abdomen, stomach, and rectum (including hemorrhoids). Staphysagria may also help after operations on traumatic injuries.
Hypericum: particularly useful for injuries, wounds and surgeries involving nerve rich areas of the body.
I took the remedies above for three weeks on rotation. The Helios Childbirth Kits include the remedies at a very potent dose (200c), so for clients I recommend two weeks at the strongest dose as included in the kit, then acquiring the same remedies at a lower potency (30c) for another week or two. For more specific advise on any other symptoms you are experiencing I recommend finding a qualified homeopathic practictioner in your area.
Rescue Remedy: another favourite from my doula bag! This is very helpful for the emotional side of the healing and coming to terms with the experience, along with those moments of potential overwhelm which come with just having had a baby, and are exacerbated by the intense aches and pains that come with Cesarean recovery. A few drops under the tongue when you feel like you need it; as an added bonus it is very “cleansing” for the body too.
Psychological & Emotional Healing
Acceptance and Integration – these are simple, commonly used words which psychologically are the foundations of a healthy processing of any difficult experience in life, including difficult or traumatic birth experiences. First of all, tell your story as often as you feel comfortable sharing it. Seek out your partner, your friends and family, your healthcare providers, a therapist, your doula (or post partum doula), the neighbour, the dog(!)…anyone who can listen to you unconditionally and non-judgementally, and simply allow you to speak things out and recall things one by one to make sense of how it all unfolded. This is a very important step for your brain in processing the experience; this is one of the primary ways in which it organises difficult or traumatic events.
Journaling – could you find the time to write down a few words each day about your feelings about the Caesarean, your recollections, what you’re grateful for from the experience, how you feel you are healing each day, what disappointments and concerns have come up for you that day? It doesn’t need to be worthy of Anne Frank; it might just be a list of words, it may be a collection of pictures or diagrams, you could use video or voicenotes. Again, journaling in this way can be incredibly helpful in assisting the brain to process the experience and not file it away as a trauma. The three feelings you should pay keen attention to and treat with extra special care are guilt, shame and fear; if these feeling persist then consider getting a referral to a therapist.
Support Groups – there is a lot of support, empathy and healing to be found in the experience of sharing birth stories with others who have gone through a similar kind of birth experience (particularly if that experience was far away from the experience that you were hoping for). It is important to find a group which is facilitated by someone who you feel safe with, and who can hold space for all members of the group, and who can be relied upon to maintain healthy, non judgemental, mature and open communication in the sessions. I know many birth workers (myself included – click here to join the Cesarean Support Network NL); midwives and doulas, along with coaches and therapists who host group meetings in person; there are also organisations such as the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) that have local chapters just about everywhere in the world. Facebook and other online forums also have a variety of virtual support groups which can be sources of tremendous value; especially when they are international and there are people online around the clock.
VBAC/ Vaginal Birth After Cesarean – one of the most difficult things I have read about women who give birth by Caesarean Section is that they are significantly less likely to choose to have more children because for many the experience of having the surgery, and recovering from surgery is too much to imagine going through a second time. I do maintain that some of that is because there is so little follow up care from health care providers, and somehow such a stigma attached to Cesarean birth that there are few resources out there on successful short, medium and long term strategies for healing successfully from a C-Section. Please keep in mind that the outdated adage “Once a Caesarean, always a Caesarean” is NOT TRUE. Many women go on to experience vaginal birth following a C-Section; so please don’t let your experience of having had a Csection put you off planning a VBAC. Most doulas have experience supporting VBAC; and as I do run a VBAC Support Group in Amsterdam, I hope to write a comprehensive VBAC post in the not so distant future *watch this space*.
Longer Term Healing Hacks (6 weeks +)
Keep working on Acceptance and Integration – this journey can make leaps and bounds and take long rests over many months and years.
Body work – consider seeing a chiropractor, an accupuncturist, an osteopath, a cranio sacral therapist, a somatic coach, a Mizan therapist, an energetic healer, or an Arvigo practitioner. Whilst the mind commands a lot of our attention, our bodies can often go ignored, and our bodies store a lot which actually we often need to release. Seeing any one of the therapists mentioned above (and there are many other types of physical therapy that can help – you need to work out what is good for you) could have a very supportive role in healing the body from the experience of surgical birth.
Massage or cupping – one of the potential complications with longer term healing following a Csection is adhesive scarring (internally). By massaging the area directly around the scar (as mentioned above with an electric toothbrush*** or vibrator), the adhesions are understood to be less likely to form. Gentle cupping (non therapeutic grade) around the scar after a few months can also discourage adhesions (extensive scar tissue) from forming. It can also be very beneficial for gently removing any inflammation and/or stagnation in the area of the scar; improving sexual response, improving the functioning of the uterus, and bringing blood flow, lymph flow and warmth back into the region. A great practitioner for this is Mirjam Heemskerk of Gentle Beginnings here in Amsterdam; she specialises in holistic recovery in the post partum period. You can visit her and her wonderful work over here.
(I have successfully used my Philips Sonicare toothbrush for both excellent teeth cleaning and Caesarean scar healing! *** Not the brush end; the body of the toothbrush!)
What can you add??? What worked for you???
Leave your comments with your own tried and tested healing hacks, or your experiences with the suggestions above – I would so love to hear if this helped you in anyway.
Lastly; please get in touch with feedback or questions, or if you would like a consultation to help process your birth story, to plan your next birth, or for coaching or doula support in any capacity; I am available in person in Amsterdam, or online via Skype/FaceTime. You can find out more about my doula support packages here. We can arrange an appointment via email:
“Doula Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula” “Doula in Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula Amsterdam” “Holistic Doula” “Doula services Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula Support” “Birth Support Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Birth Support” “Doula Support Amsterdam” “Doula Amsterdam” “Amsterdam Doula” “Ilena Doula” “Doula Ilena” “Ilena Standring”
all. at. the. same. time.
# AIR to the wound as much as possible # Lie down whilst baby sleeps or is carried by your partner and just let clean dry air reach the wound – in the very immediate days that might mean that you need to hold the belly up off the wound as your body begins to reacclimatise to not having a full pregnant belly anymore.
Food & Drink
Spicy / Herbal Hacks
Get the kettle on! Tea time!
Milk Production/Pumping – I just want to be upfront and honest that milk production can take a little longer following a Caesarean (and analgesia); and so pumping might well be suggested to “improve” or hasten milk flow. Please don’t despair, this does not mean that “you can’t breastfeed after a Caesarean”. In those early days it can feel like you’re climbing a mountain on your hands and knees, but keep in mind that in fact it is the first 8 weeks post partum which determines your milk production and flow, and each day you are probably noting that you feel a little bit better, a little bit stronger: have faith – this too shall pass! All that said, given that it can be more difficult to initiate breastfeeding after a C-Section, if you have any pain or doubts about baby’s latch or your breasts, then make sure to consult a well recommended Lactation Consultant or Peer to Peer Breastfeeding Counselor to iron out any issues before they take route. Lastly; due to the IV fluid that you receive when you undergo a Cesarean birth combined with the fact that baby doesn’t withstand the compression of a vaginal birth; babies born via Csection can have a slightly higher birth weight than their vaginally born counterparts. This can in turn mean a slightly elevated weight loss in the early days…remember to bring this into any conversation about baby’s weight loss (even if it’s just a personal reminder to reassure yourself) and perhaps consider waiting one more day before intervening with supplementation.
Fennel, cardamon, ginger; all helpful should there be any trapped gas, or constipation. If you’re feeling a little warm or your temperature is up then fennel with it’s slightly cooling properties would be a wiser choice. The other blessing here is that all three of these herbs and spices are traditionally used as galactogogues – substances that promote and enhance milk production.
Psychological & Emotional Healing
Longer Term Healing Hacks (6 weeks +)
What can you add??? What worked for you???
Leave your comments with your own tried and tested healing hacks, or your experiences with the suggestions above – would love to know if this helped you in anyway.
Is there a “right” way to give birth???
Here I am sharing a well constructed, short and sweet piece here on the author’s Liz Hochman’s opinion about the answer to this question.
I invite you to visit her web page here: http://minneapolisdoula.com
Thank you Liz; your piece really resonates with me personally and professionally.
I agree whole heartedly that there IS a “right” birthing outcome, that it’s not really about a “right way”or “right mode” of giving birth. I love this quote from your piece:
“Is there really a right way to give birth? Yes. The right way to birth, is the way that matches your values, takes account for your health history, and leaves you feeling empowered, strong, and capable when you are holding your baby. Notice that I did not say the right way to birth is a mode or method of delivery.”
It’s certainly not about ‘naturally in the sea on a remote tropical island with dolphins chanting encouragingly’ VS ‘an elective Csection booked in on the date that suits you 5 days before your wedding anniversary’.
There is no “VS”.
> It is about the mother feeling safe.
> It is about the mother (& father) having access to all information and statistics on the pros and cons of their choices.
> It is about feeling autonomous in her choices; both whilst formulating her birth plan, and in the eventuality that in the unfolding of the birth story there are some unexpected developments.
> It is about feeling supported and nurtured by her partner, by her family and friends, by her community and by her health care providers whatever her choices throughout pregnancy, labour, birth and the post partum period.
> And I would hope the cherry on top would be that however birth unfolds; that the outcome is she recognises her body and her feminine power for the very miracle that they are…that her body made, housed and birthed a baby!
What does this article bring up for you?