Call me a Chameleon!

Call me a Chameleon!

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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.

hello@ilenajoannestandring.com

 

Caesarean Birth Recovery – 45 Tips for Healing

Caesarean Birth Recovery – 45 Tips for Healing

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.

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(Image credit: Helen Carmina Photography)

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.

Practical Hacks

# 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!

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# 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!

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(head over here for the tea set!)

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.

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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.

CAUTION

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.

Breastfeeding Hacks

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!

Aromatherapy Hacks

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!

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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.

Homepathic Hacks

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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(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!)

Further reading

http://wellnessmama.com/25482/c-section-recovery/

https://www.burrelleducation.com/2012/c-section-recovery-an-holistic-viewpoint/

http://www.modernalternativepregnancy.com/2013/01/26/what-are-the-best-natural-ways-to-recover-from-a-c-section-and-weekend-links/

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:

hello@ilenajoannestandring.com

“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”

 

Caesarean Birth Recovery – 45 Tips for Healing

Caesarean Birth Recovery – 45 Tips for Healing

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.

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(Image credit: Helen Carmina Photography)

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.

Practical Hacks

# 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.

# 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!

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# 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!

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(head over here for the tea set!)

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.

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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.

CAUTION

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.

Breastfeeding Hacks

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. 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.

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!

Aromatherapy Hacks

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.

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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.

Homepathic Hacks

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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(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!)

Further reading

http://wellnessmama.com/25482/c-section-recovery/

https://www.burrelleducation.com/2012/c-section-recovery-an-holistic-viewpoint/

http://www.modernalternativepregnancy.com/2013/01/26/what-are-the-best-natural-ways-to-recover-from-a-c-section-and-weekend-links/

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.

“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”

 

 

What kind of birth is a doula best for?

What kind of birth is a doula best for?

I have been pretty busy these last few weeks fighting and getting over some seasonal bacteria(!), coaching my coaching clients through their year reviews and assisting them in planning ahead for 2017, getting my own business goals and business tools in place for 2017, and meeting with new and current clients. Two points came up in all four new client meetings that I thought would be great to share here in a blog post and offer clarification on…

  1. “I didn’t think a doula would support (xyz) type of birth”
  2. “I have the impression that a lot of doulas have some kind of agenda”

These concerns always worry me a little – because I wonder how many women shrug off the idea of having a doula because they just don’t think their birthing preferences are in keeping with the type of birth a doula will support?

In my opinion (obviously as a professional doula in Amsterdam; I’m a little biased here!) even one woman disregarding the possibility of doula support because of that uncertainty is a crying shame!

Let’s get clear on each point by turning the statements into questions:

  1. What type of birth is a doula best for?
  2. What kind of birth agenda does a doula have?

Q1 – What type of birth is a doula best for?

Answer: Every type of birth!

Whatever type of birth you want – a doula is a good choice for extra support. More often than not; your midwife or gynaecologist will not be able to stay by your side the whole time. A doula can be with you (& your partner), or just outside your door (should you wish to be alone) from the point you need her until a couple of hours after the birth of your baby. A doula can be by your side in the theatre as you have a planned Csection, she can hold your hand over the pool side as you have your baby in the birthing pool at the Geboortecentrum (birthing centre), she can support you and your partner through an induction at the hospital, she can kneel down and hold your left hand as your partner holds your right hand and look up at you in your eye to reassure you as the anaesthetist administers your epidural, or she can be sat behind you on the baarkruk (birthing stool) as your husband catches your baby in your bedroom. A great doula has experience in all types of birth! 

Q2 – What kind of birth agenda does a doula have?

Answer: A doula has an agenda to support you and your partner in navigating your pregnancy, birth and post partum period (particularly the first 6 weeks) in the way that you want to be supported by her.

She has no agenda of her own other than how best to support you in preparing for, in having and in recovering from the birth that you want; supporting your birth (& parenting) agenda. Of course a doula can offer helpful pointers about research, direct you to support groups or webinars or articles that may be of interest to you, hold your hand as you say yes or no to any change of plan in any birth setting, and most importantly: do all of the above and be with you in an unconditional, reassuring and non judgemental way.

Let me emphasise this in bold typeface and by colouring it purple: her agenda is supporting your agenda.

All this said; there are doulas who do express preferences for a certain approach to birthing or to parenting, and usually they will be upfront about what type of birthing or parenting that is. If you feel that doesn’t match your chosen direction then rest assured there are many other doulas out there to choose from; doulas are not necessarily one size fits all.

To be clear about my approach as a doula from our very first phone call or meeting:

I will listen to you.

I will ask you questions, I will offer sign posts to helpful information about studies, alternative and possibilities; I will encourage and empower you to make informed choices.

I will be there at your side to support you – whatever your choices – and I hope you will never feel judged by me.

I will offer unconditional support around you and your birthing space, wherever that space may be.

I will support you in the way that you decide you need me to support you, and it may be that the mode of support you need changes along the journey – I can handle unexpected change and I will remain by your side unconditionally.

This is your journey. It is an honour that you ask me to be a part of it.

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Are we unwittingly perpetuating fear of C-sections; and contributing to birth trauma outcomes by doing so???

Are we unwittingly perpetuating fear of C-sections; and contributing to birth trauma outcomes by doing so???

You’ve all read the headlines, the sensationalist introduction to link to new studies on the latest medical research, the byline underneath the headline:

“Moms beware! C-section may harm your baby’s ‘concentration’ “

“Mother’s agony as anaesthetic wore off during C-section”

“Are women losing ability to give birth naturally? They’re relying too much on C-sections and drugs, says expert”

“The mothers made to feel guilty about their C-sections by OTHER MOTHERS”

“A study revealing the prolongation of labour, thanks to epidurals, has been useful in identifying the iatrogenesis – doctor induced harm – at the root of the cesarean problem”

“BIRTH IS THE KEY in breastfeeding: a natural birth unlocks breastfeeding potential and so much more”

“Induced labor may double the odds of C-section”

“Cesarean birth without labor associated with breastfeeding problems say two new studies”

“C-section babies more likely to become overweight”

Then we have the commonly rolled out “statistics” on how having a doula attend your birth means a “40% decrease in the risk of having a cesarean” or how “One-to-one midwifery care reduces C-sections and improves health care”, and the ever so helpful article entitled: “How to reduce your risk of having a Cesarean”, followed by a provocative article asking “Once a Csection, always a Csection???”….I saw that one and thought of the brave, courageous ladies who come to share their hopes and fears in the VBAC Support Group and thought “oh dear – how would you be feeling about your planned VBAC after reading that tagline?”

There I was, scrolling away on my Facebook page the other day – and the newest well intended article about how Csection babies seem to have a higher chance of having Autism, ADHD, obesity related illness, a bad temper*, longer eyelashes*, multiple nipples*, a recurrent ingrowing toenail* and a tendency to smile later* than babies born via the vaginal canal popped up in my news feed. Following my own positive experience of a C-section and subsequently well documented break up with the Natural Birth Movement these articles do intrigue me and I almost always click in to read them, review the science, consider the message and absorb what I can to support my son’s health. I read the article and noticed my mood had worsened. So I observed the feelings, felt them. Fear, worry, dismay, guilt….and then the thought struck me:

“Are these articles doing more harm than good – are we perpetuating fear of Cesarean birth and contributing to birth trauma by doing so ???”

First of all it is important to say: I don’t know the answer. I don’t believe that there is a binary answer to the question. I’m questioning whether or not I should even pose the question publically or just ponder this further alone?! As a disclaimer I will also point out that I have no science to back up this question or subsequent questions.

The criteria for experiencing birth trauma are well clarified by the Birth Trauma Association with a very clear list of potential contributary topics which contribute to birth trauma.

  • High levels of medical intervention
  • Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency caesarean section

These are two very clear very distinct definitions from a list of sixteen identified contributary factors. How do these events lead to trauma in some mothers but not others? They are not unusual birth outcomes. Is it the physical trauma of the body within these birth circumstances leading to a psychological trauma, or these birth circumstances having been feared/dreaded/denied as a possibility by the mother/never considered as an option meaning that when these circumstances unfold in this manner; the subsequent experience is therefore psychologically traumatic? It’s a bit of a chicken vs egg anomaly. How could we ever really study the impact of having read articles denouncing the perils of Csections on any women, let alone a wide ranging statistically meaningful group of women? Perhaps the only thing we can really do is to be conscious of the question as we encounter another article with a shocking headline?

When it comes to the notion of birth trauma and headlines like these contributing to birth trauma; the more comprehensive question would be

“By repeatedly using sensationalist and confrontational headlines when we publish these studies and their findings regarding birth by Cesarean are we:

a) setting women up with irrational fear of a procedure that sometimes becomes inevitable in an emergency?

b) paving the way for great disappointment in not “achieving” the optimal spontaneous vaginal birth?

c) laying the foundations for trauma by inherently invalidating and dismissing many women’s experience of birth by cesarean as suboptimal? ”

I certainly don’t believe that if we are perpetuating the fear of Cesarean birth in this way that we are doing so consciously – although unfortunately I have seen well meaning birth workers commenting on how “graphically violent” an image of a baby being born by Csection was (which seems a little counter productive to the notion of unconditional birth support).

I read the research, studies and their findings keenly (despite the way the headlines are worded) as a birth professional too; as I stand for informed choice. Informed choice in childbirth should be fundamental, always – whether the choice comes in an emergency situation, a semi emergency situation or even as a choice earlier in pregnancy. I can see and have seen that risks, benefits and options are not always explored fully with expectant or labouring families by medical professionals; and so I can see that by using sensationalist headlines information comes to parents through other channels which otherwise they may not encounter. New research which is consistently being conducted means that sometimes people who made a certain set of choices a few years ago, may well discover something that would affect their decision were they given the opportunity to make the same choice again now; sometimes those people are deeply effected by these articles too. I hope their concerns can be somewhat allayed by reminding them that we do our best with the knowledge that we have at the time.

Above and beyond being crucial in women having all the information they need to make informed choices for their families, the publication and sharing of the research is important and meaningful in the evolution of how we collectively approach birth as mothers, fathers, birth workers, health care providers and policy makers; how medicine and medical protocol advances; and how we can best support our babies’ health post partum, throughout childhood and onwards into adulthood; catering to the specific needs which are unquestionably sometimes a little different to babies who are born via the vaginal canal. This is wonderful as we are actually able to develop practices like seeding the microbiome of the mother’s vaginal canal into the newborn baby’s body post Csection, in order to best replicate some of the benefits of vaginal birth. For more information on this practice head over here. It means that the procedure of the C-section itself can be adapted to offer the mother and baby some of the psychological and physical benefits of spontaneous vaginal birth by performing “Natural C-sections” or at the very least “Gentle C-sections”. For a personal account of a Natural C-sectionby a mother who took part in a study currently being conducted by UCLH in the UK please head over here.

It does seems clear to me though, that some of the aforementioned headlines could be perceived to be perpetuating fear of Csections; intentionally or not.

The question does then broach the bigger picture of the presentation of birth within mainstream media, and the notion of birth as a feminist issue (although birth as a feminist issue deserves it’s own book – let alone a blog post!). I was reminded of the visual presentation of health crisis in the media recently when my beloved grandfather had a heart attack and said a number of times to the emergency healthcare providers; “I can’t believe I’ve had a heart attack – I wasn’t rolling around on the floor groaning in agony with a puce face at any point”. Women’s impressions of birth from mainstream media are often equally misguided, and can range anywhere from “I gave birth on the toilet – I didn’t even know I was pregnant” to “my waters broke as I left the expensive department store, I gave birth in the taxi on the way to the hospital into the taxi drivers hands” to “I fainted in the street and was rushed into hospital via blue light straight into theatre to be put under general anaesthetic and my baby was delivered by emergency C-section”. Certainly any of these situations are possible: but all fairly unlikely. The reality is that there are many opportunities for you as parents to ask questions, discuss your desires for your birth plan, discuss and negotiate the “What Ifs?” or grey areas of birth preferences, and to sometimes even say “I hear that the protocol states we ought to do something to further the progression of my labour right now; but I do not want to and am not ready to agree to any intervention”. Indeed when looking at the reality of pregnancy and planning birth preferences; there is usually very little ‘high drama’ to attract big audiences or a large readership(!)

What can we do with this question? I’m not even sure: doula it? Hold space around it? Consider that client we know who is currently going through the fog of PND or PTSD after having experienced a birth outcome she wasnt anticipating? Consider the heightened intuition of the client who is 39 weeks pregnant and who we know who is digging deep for faith in her body as she prepares to VBAC after having stalled last time she laboured at 3cm? Consider holding space for those clients and others like them before we repost the article unthinkingly and unquestioningly?

It feels important to me to ask the question of myself and the communication I contribute to the discussion around birth; specifically via Caesarean birth.

And so in the name of desensationalising Caesarean birth, in the name of anecdotal evidence to allay your fears about the shocking headlines telling you the dangers and suboptimal outcomes of Caesarean birth: let me finish by telling you the last chapter of a beautiful birth story of a mummy and baby boy I know very well (ahem ahem blush blush) who ended up meeting eachother in the bright, blue, loving and gentle theatre of the OLVG through a stargate wound as opposed to having met in their living room after the full journey through the vaginal canal.

It wasn’t what they had planned.

It was exactly what the mother had feared the most.

But it was beautiful, truly beautiful.

It was deeply healing.

It was what she needed, despite having had a doula, an independent midwife and a best friend as birth attendants to try to  avoid it.

It was a whole host of things underpinned by a whole host of emotions; but it was their unique, wonderful birth story.

She experienced that heart burstingly ecstatic moment right there in the theatre.

The wonder.

The bonding.

The magical miracle of birth, albeit a different kind of magic to the magic she’d been hoping for but magical all the same.

Breast feeding worked out.

The wound healed perfectly and quickly with no infection or complications.

And to date there are no health issues to report in her son, partly because she reads all the articles she can on the health impact of Caesarean birth, and makes the choices that feel right for her and her family in order to best mitigate any “potential long term health impact”.

Words can’t always express the emotion of birth; but I believe these photos capture some of them – a big big thanks to Claudia Van Dijk (midwife from vive: vroedvrouwen in verbinding who took them.

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*Please note* no studies currently prove any link between babies who are born via csection to having a higher chance of having: a bad temper, longer eyelashes, multiple nipples, a recurrent ingrowing toenail, or a tendency to smile later (you’ll be glad to read).

I wish I had…

I wish I had…

I wish I’d been more prepared…

I wish I had read more about what to expect…

I wish I’d known that I could say no…

I wish I had known that I could question their decisions…

I wish I’d made a birth plan…

I wish I’d asked them to follow the birth plan…

I wish I had known I didn’t have to lie on the bed…

I wish I’d learnt how to breathe…

I wish I had waited before agreeing to induction…

I wish I’d known about the other choices…

I wish I had known I didn’t have to have constant monitoring…

I wish I’d been more assertive…

I wish I had been given a clearer picture of the consequences…

I wish I had really understood what a doula does…

I wish I’d had a doula!

I hear so many different mothers and fathers saying these things or variation on these themes.

Even long before I became a coach and doula, people have told me their stories and secrets. I often joke that I have a sign on my forehead that says “Tell me the things you would normally never tell a stranger”. I love hearing these details, despite them often being difficult or painful to hear. I believe passionately in people telling their stories, owning their stories, giving their stories space and time to heal, to evolve and to transform. Ultimately it is these eclectic stories I’ve heard that led me to become a coach.

It is a strange thing now as a doula though (perhaps it’s also that I’m a mother) that I catch myself so often wishing that I could have met them sooner, told them about the myriad of wonderful birth workers in Amsterdam that they could choose from – that their regrets over how their birth unfolded or how their trauma occured could somehow have been less painful, less rueful. It’s a nonsensical line of thinking though of course – because these experiences of birth; be they ecstatic, traumatic, blissful or agonising – have the power to reshape our lives and experiences and propel us into a new direction or simply propel us forward to begin to question the paradigms we had previously accepted without a second thought. And that is beautiful.

I’ve been privileged to have supported many second time mothers and fathers, and after having experienced a very different type of birth the second time round they say things laughing like “I wish every family could have a doula” or “I wish we had had a doula the first time” or “I wish every family could have the chance to prepare like we did this time around”

I previously wrote an article on “what a doula does” which goes into a little more comparative detail about what a doula can support you with compared to other people in the birth team, but I didn’t speak of how doulas can offer so many different support options and how affordable a doula can be.

Obviously I can’t speak for all other birth workers but I can speak for what I am able to offer aside from my doula support packages as stated here:

  • Birth Planning Session: 2 hours discussing birth, labour, post partum and induction/interventions in detail. I leave you with a few birth planning templates and review the document with you a week or two later over the phone/email. 175 per couple.
  • Best Birth Support Companion Ever: 2.5 hours teaching your birth partner “how to doula you” 175 per couple.
  • Birth Story/ Birth Trauma Healing: 2 hours speaking, counselling and coaching through your previous birth experience and ending with body or energy work to finish the session. 150

And two last points:

  • It is never too late to hire a doula! Don’t be the one that says “I wish I’d gone for it and hired a doula”! I offer a last minute package (if I have availability) which is priced at €695 for one two hour prenatal appointment, being on call for you 24/7 from the moment of hiring, and one post natal appointment. I am even open to you keeping my phone number in your phone and if you end up in hospital thinking “right about now I would appreciate having someone here to support us” then try me – whatever the hour!
  • To put the cost of full doula support into context, the Principal Doula Package will cost you less than 20 per week of pregnancy…doesnt it seem much more affordable when put like that?! Please see the testimonials page for more insight into how others have valued my services.

And the very last point(!) – my teachers Jennifer, Jacky and Joyce at JJ Doula Training have details of many student doulas who have completed the education with them but who are looking for experience – and a student doula support will cost between 200 – 350 in Amsterdam (level and experience dependent) for two or three prenatal appointments, birth support and post natal support. I’m happy to facilitate contact or you can reach out to them directly.

Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

Source: Prenatal Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation

As detailed in this blog post I wrote, taking some time regularly during pregnancy to meditate and connect to baby can be a really helpful way to help you develop the bond with baby prenatally.

Through writing the blog post I decided to finally record some audios myself, after having been encouraged (& nagged!) by clients, friends and family to do so for over two years – “good things come to those who wait” or so they say.

Here is the first recording:

Golden light visualisation and guided meditation for pregnancy.

Ina May Gaskin comes to Amsterdam – and YOU are invited!!!

Ina May Gaskin comes to Amsterdam – and YOU are invited!!!

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Maybe you have heard the rumours???

Often described as “The Mother of Authentic Midwifery”, “America’s Most Loved Midwife” and notorious for her practice’s exemplary results and low intervention rates, Ina May Gaskin has gained international notoriety for promoting natural birth: and it is true – she is coming to Amsterdam!!!!

Maybe you thought, “Tickets will be sold out – no chance I’ll be able to join”

Well the daytime event with Ina May Gaskin on the 25th September 2015 was so popular it sold out in a matter of days, but the organizers and Ina May got together and decided to arrange another event on 24th September 2015 and so here is…

> > > YOUR INVITATION < < <

to join us for………..

AN EVENING WITH INA MAY GASKIN

24/9/2015

19h00 – 21h30

@ CREA Theatre, Nieuwe Achtergracht 170, Amsterdam

This event promises to be an inspiring evening listening to Ina May’s stories from the notorious natural birthing mecca “The Farm”
Ina May is keen for the last hour of the event to be a dialogue: so bring your burning questions!
What do you want to ask Ina May Gaskin?
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Event costs:
#EARLYBIRD# 65.00 euros* before August 31
75.00 euros* from September 1
*Prices are BTW inclusive
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HOW?
To register for your ticket now before the event sells out and still at the early bird price for another five days, please e-mail Lievnath Faber at lievnathfaber@gmail.com
or
Dana Esther Lindzon from Mamawise at dana@mamawise.nl
Ina May’s books will be for sale at the CREA before and after the event, please bring cash should you wish to buy (no PIN on site)

I’m attending with the organisation: so I hope to welcome you to the event and enjoy the evening together!
In case you haven’t already seen it – check out Ina May’s TEDTalk

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Feeling “connected” to baby during pregnancy

Feeling “connected” to baby during pregnancy

“Every orchestra has specific instruments and musicians, but you, the mother, are the conductor. You are writing your own symphony, you choose the music and the notes. If something is out of tune, you can change the music. You create the harmony. You are the maestro.”

excerpt from The Greatest Pregnancy Ever: The Keys to the MotherBaby Bond Tracy Wilson Peters, CCCE, CLD, and Laurel Wilson, IBCLC, CCCE

Baby heart headphones

As a doula in Amsterdam, I hear many confessions from pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. I say confessions because often it’s as if they hear the word “Doula” and then decide to offload the thoughts they haven’t dared to share with anyone else about pregnancy, or childbirth or the postpartum period. This isnt a new experience for me – I often wonder if I have a sign on my forehead that reads “Please share your most taboo thinking/intense life experiences/painful loss/heartfelt desire/dirty secrets with me”?!?!?! It’s all good – I love hearing these untold pregnancy and birth stories!

A very common pregnancy confession (that sometimes women feel so guilty about that they don’t dare to vocalise it) is that they don’t or didn’t feel very connected to baby.

Fortunately we are now very mindful of the fact that babies’ consiousness does indeed develop in the uterus. Annie Murphy Paul gave an excellent TEDTalk on the matter, and the documentary What Babies Want explores this in a very convincing and heartfelt way – both great watches if you find you do want to explore the subject of babies’ inutero consciousness (see also the links at the end of this blog).

As with much of our developing awareness though – this knowledge can be a double edged sword. Many pregnant mothers upon hearing that indeed baby’s consciousness is there from almost the moment you see the extra line on the stick or hear the words “You’re pregnant” become very concerned with making sure their unborn baby has only positive experiences within the uterus, and that she experiences as much love, connection and nurturing as possible before birth. Great! As long as it doesn’t become a means to tell yourself that you are anything less than absolutely incredible for carrying a baby inside your womb.

“People keep asking if I’m enjoying the mother-baby connection and honestly I just don’t know what that is supposed to feel like?”

or

“How do I connect with a baby that I can’t see?”

or

“It’s hard for me to feel loved up and connected to baby when I just feel like crap 82% of the time due to pregnancy tiredness!”

Other confessions along the same lines go

“I felt so sad so often during my first pregnancy – I was worried that when she was born she would be depressed”,

or

“I just don’t have time for this pregnancy – I’m running around after an eighteen month old who has just started running – I can’t keep up with him let alone focus on this unborn baby”

You get the picture. Why are parents so hard on themselves?!?!

Here are six suggestions as a quick “How To Connect With Baby During Pregnancy”

  • First thing in the morning or last thing at night. That lovely only half awake time when your eyes are probably closed, you feel way less self conscious and either the thought bubble (The Mind) is just about to switch on or off. As you’re adjusting your body to rest or wakefulness take a moment to place your hands on your beautiful bump and maybe just begin by saying “Morning Baby” (or Goodnight!) No need to say it aloud – though no harm in doing so. Once you feel comfortable doing this – you may even like to spoon in to your partner and invite them to say a few words.
  • Whilst doing something mundane or mind numbing. You’re washing the dishes or brushing your teeth, dare i say it – maybe you’re driving on a route you know like the back of your hand. This is also a great moment to decide to check in with how baby is feeling. Chances are you’re relaxed and just in the moment – baby may already respond to this energy and have a little wriggle around – focus your attention on your womb, perhaps this feels more comfortable if you touch your belly with one hand to make contact. Tell baby what you’re doing. Tell her it’s boring! Tell her it’s really not your favourite thing to do but that somehow it’s quite relaxing anyway. Tell her what you did today. Tell her what you’re doing later.
  • Guided visualisation or meditation. As a coach and doula in Amsterdam I often suggest to clients who are looking to build meditation into their practice but who find it difficult to switch off that they have a look on Youtube for guided meditations to listen to on headphones. That would be a great place to start, there are lots of guided meditations out there to try, and many women report finding a lot of peace and relaxation from the Natal Hypotherapy and Hypnobirthing CDs. It is also important to say that it is very very common for you to go “to sleep” whilst listening to a guided meditation, especially whilst pregnant(!) forgive yourself for this – and be reassured that it is all going in anyway! EDIT: I have also since recorded a few prenatal/pregnancy visualisations and meditations here and here!
  • Singing to baby. Something wonderful happens to us when we sing! We breathe differently, we breath deeper, our lungs expand more fully and our diaghpram needs to get to work to help us project our voices. If you are a power ballad singer in the car, if you are a musical star in the shower or if you’re an arena filling singing chef in the kitchen – keep on singing – and just set the intention that the song is for baby. Having a song or two that you sing repetitively for baby during pregnancy can be a wonderful calming and reassuring tool for helping baby to feel safe and calm in the fourth trimester – and beyond. There is a truly beautiful anecdote from Penny Simkin (doula and doula educator extraordinaire) to be found here – enjoy!
  • Going within: asking questions and listening. After having adopted a couple of the practices above – once you are able to recognise that you are connecting with baby in a deep and a meaningful way; then you may be ready to really take the contact with baby to the next level. Usually to really be able to pose questions and hear the answers it helps to be still and quiet. To be comfortable and feel safe. To know that time is stretching out ahead and you can really enjoy taking time to communicate with baby. Sitting down comfortably; if you are comfortable in the lotus position with your back straight and your spine aligned – great! Perhaps you’re more comfortable sat on a chair – a straight and well supported spine, both feet on the ground, perhaps you’ve been really using the birthing ball and are able to sit with a straight well aligned spine, knees wide and below hips, feet stable and supportive in full contact with the ground. Begin by placing your right hand on your belly to make contact with baby, and your left hand on your heart centre (on your chest).Take three deep breaths and focus on dropping your consciousness from your head into your heart. Take another three breaths and set the intention to connect with baby. Notice the warmth of each hand, notice baby; is she still, does she move? Invite the heart to ask baby how she is feeling. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow the feelings/instincts and thoughts to come up and take shape. Try not to judge. The ego will get busy telling you this is crazy, telling you that you’re imagining things. Just allow those thoughts; they too have their place. Ask again; ‘what can I do to help you feel better’? Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Ask if there is anything else that baby needs to communicate to you. Notice. Breathe. Notice. Allow. And finally, what do you want to communicate to baby? Share. Notice. Feel. Breathe. Notice. Allow. Before you open your eyes, move around and get back to your day – take some time, take space together, feel the gratitude, feel the peace, feel the calm. Then >slowly< come back to your body, open your eyes, stretch and pick up your day.
  • You’re always connected anyway….Remember this. Go about your day. Just be reassured that baby is listening, baby is feeling, baby is sentient, baby is connected to you; you are connected to baby – baby is within you. Baby is coming to earth, and earthside there is a whole range of emotion, of feelings, of experiences, of connection, of disconnection. Baby will get to taste it all. You are unequivocally connected to baby every second – waking or sleeping. And maybe that is enough for you to remember; actually you dont have to make a conscious effort to “connect with baby” because baby is connected. Let me say it again: you. dont. have. to. “DO”. anything. Be aware of the connection. Don’t scaremonger yourself about any “negative” experiences being “bad” for baby. By all means – focus as much as you can on the positives – beautiful if you can mainly be in this state, but if there are things going on in your life that are stressful, that are out of your control – let it go, try not to get hung up on it.

Here are a couple of other links for you to look into on the notion of mother-baby connection and evidence for it’s positive impact on pregnancy, child bearing and the immeditate post partum period, if you have any to add or if you have any heart warming anecdotes to share on the topic: please comment below!

An interview with Bruce Lipton called “Happy Healthy Child: A Holistic Approach”

The inspiring Dr Christiane Northrup posted a wonderful blog about “Waiting for Baby” which covers some other beautiful visualisations.

Lastly: image credit unknown – I would love to attribute this beautiful image to it’s rightful creator so please make contact if you know the artist.

What would I gain from having a doula in my birth team???

What would I gain from having a doula in my birth team???

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As a coach and a doula I do a lot of networking online. I was very grateful yesterday to receive this very honest and curious question from an expectant third time mother:

{Q} “As I have only really heard of Doulas on USA TV shows, can I ask what… (sorry I’m trying to word this as my intention is far from to offend you but to learn if this for me)..would I get from you that i wouldn’t get from my midwife, husband, my mum and friends? I’m trying to work out if this service is going to give me anything extra than I’m already lucky enough to have? Thanks x”

{A} “Your midwife’s two priorities are the physical health of your body and the physical health of your baby; my priority is empowering you to make the best choices for your emotional, psychological and spiritual health, and then supporting you and those choices to optimise your enjoyment and empowerment through your birthing experience. A doula supports those aspects of your husband’s/wife’s/boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s health and enjoyment, and if relevant your other children or other birthing partner. In other words your midwife will focus mainly on your cervix, vagina and baby’s health, I’ll focus on making sure you are feeling positive, peaceful, comfortable and powerful as the latter stages of pregnancy, labour and the post partum period unfold.

Your husband/boyfriend as a male (or your wife/girlfriend/friend as a non labouring female) has the potential to be both having their own profound experience as well as being or feeling a little lost in the experience. He can read a lot of books to prepare him, he can empathise as much as his imagination allows him to, he may feel scared, exasperated, helpless, overwhelmed, overjoyed, traumatised, frustrated, squeamish or traumatised at any given moment during labour, birth and immediate post partum.

Michel Odent has infamously asked three confronting questions of fathers being present at a birth:

First question: Does the participation of the father aid or hinder the birth?

Second question: Can the participation of the father at birth influence the sexual life of the couple afterward?

Third question: Can all men cope with the strong emotional reactions they may have while participating in the birth?

For the answers and full exploration of this topic read the full article here: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/fatherpart.asp

A doula can support your partner in their experience of labour, both practically (ie popping the kettle on, making cups of tea, topping the birth pool up, making the placenta smoothie after birth, taking photos with you all in frame, letting him go to the bathroom and take a break for a moment), emotionally (a hand squeeze, a hug, a shared look, a hand on the shoulder, a safe word if he’s squeamish) , and all in the name of helping him to support you best. I love this article, and this quote from it “Our doula really helped bring me together with my wife as she gave birth. My wife remembers my constant support and never failing love or knowledge. She remembers the doula as a nice person who did some stuff in the background. We won’t give birth without a doula.”

Your Mum is your Mum. You were connected at one stage by an umbilical cord, or by adoption papers; either of those things carry a lot of emotional baggage – in a good way most of the time, but sometimes some women find that emotional baggage doesn’t actually keep them in the best place for them to experience their own power during labour….some women need their mothers and can’t imagine labouring or birthing without their mothers in the room. If your mother is there; then a doula can support your mum in supporting you in the best possible way; taking away the things that might take her away from the – the practical and emotional things above. Or, if your mum is not there, then a doula can mother you; take care of your every need in a nurturing way – but without the same weighted emotional ties. And she would probably offer to text your mum to keep her informed of the process so that you are kept away from the bright light of the mobile screen which isn’t so conducive to the labouring mind.

Your friends are family you choose, you mention them so I’m assuming you are close and that’s wonderful that you know they are there to rally around and be supportive. The thing is with friends that we often have a certain point with friends where we stop just before we ask them ‘one more thing’ – because we think “Oh but they’ve already done so much” or “ Oh god should I share that info or is that just TMI” or “ I know she’s having a really tough time with her husband right now – I can’t have a pregnant moan about the fact that I sent my Tim out for hazelnut icecream and he bloody came back with macadamia nut brittle instead” etc. A doula is there to listen to the TMI stuff, to go that extra mile and make up an extra batch of xyz as needed, to realise the difference between a hazelnut and a macadamia and to not think you’re a pregnant or labouring diva but to just get to know you and do those extra little things in just the right way for you….so your friends can come round, have a cuppa, have a two way moan because you know you’ll save that extra moan with your doula so you have space for their stuff too.

Other things a doula does above and beyond the team you mention:
– She helps you inform and empower yourself about birth so you can plot out your birth preferences not based on what the hospital protocols/home birth team/birth centre normally “allow” but upon what will work for you and your family, what will make you feel safest and what will hopefully mean a positive, peaceful and empowering birthing experience as opposed to birthing a healthy baby at any cost.
– Unwavering, non-judgemental and non-phased birth support at any birth you choose or need to undergo. In a Pennine stream, in a hospital theatre, in a birthing pool in your living room, the local birth centre or on your kitchen floor: a doula will be there calm and unwavering, with a hug, a smile and an eye to eye look reminding you of your power and strength when you need it most – whatever the setting whatever the situation.
– She holds the space around labour, birth and the golden hour post partum. What does that mean? It means helping you to keep your surroundings during the last weeks of pregnancy as calm, safe and peaceful as possible, and during labour means protecting that space and reminding those who may come in and out of it to respect it, promoting oxytocin amongst everyone who comes in and out; and that oxytocin will help you and your body to remain saturated in it (Oxytocin is one of the main hormones in the birth hormone cocktail)
– She records your birth story for you; the time you really got into the zone, the funny thing you said whilst eating a sandwich, the time the midwife arrived, the time your waters broke, the time the delivery kit was mobilised, the moment baby crowned, the moment baby was fully earthside…and if you’re lucky she will be able to take a few photos too!
– She can offer alternative pain relief methods such as massage, acupressure, rebozo, aromatherapy.
On top of all that I would say that I personally can offer:
– Years of counselling and coaching experience to support in listening, overcoming and setting intentions and goals around pregnancy, labour, post partum and breast feeding
– Reiki and polarity massage before, during and after birth
– Alternative support in helping you with Optimal Foetal positioning )including Moxa for breech presentation
– Massage, acupressure, rebozo sifting and aromatherapy as above
– Birth photography
– Currently offering preparation of placenta smoothies and portioned placenta for the freezer, plans to offer placenta encapsulation in the not so distant future
– Excellent tea making skills; and a penchant for choosing the right herbs to support good health throughout”

I received this reply following my answer:

“Wow thank you for this information, I’ve read, reread and read again for good measure ( it’s peaceful here at 5.30am lol) I think your work of empowering the person going through the labour and pregnancy and her partner is such an incredibly amazing thing and understand how and why many many couples would need and want you by their side especially for a first birth or after a previously traumatic experience. Having laid here digesting your words and reflecting on my previous birth experience ( emm c-section, sick mummy, very cardiac sick baby and then natural, long but brilliant personal birth with my hub by my side then straight home to breath in our own space) I feel my husband and I are all we need to create an environment in which to bring our third child into our family. I do feel for my second child my husband ( his first) would have really gained so much from you bring there from what you’ve said above. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve sent your comment above to two friends who are both due to give birth in August ( one first time parents and the other a mum who’s going to be a mum and a dad soon) who I think will both be very interested in your support.”

What would you add to the list of benefits of having a doula beyond the great statistics that are out there?

Did you have a doula?

Did you not have a doula but wish you had? Why?

Did the experience live up to your expectation?

What would you tell someone who was thinking about having a doula to support them and their family?

A quote I love which is a good one to end on (and also features on my business cards) is this one from John H Kennell MD:

“If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it”

(So impressive are the positive birthing outcomes for mothers supported by doulas)

Still need convincing?!
Here are some other articles on why you might like to hire a doula:

http://expectingthebestbirth.com/50-reasons-to-hire-a-doula

http://taprootdoula.com/2015/03/23/stop-worrying-and-hire-a-doula/

http://www.bellybelly.com.au/pregnancy/doulas-what-is-a-doula/