Understanding what a cesarean birth is key.

Whether planned or unplanned, there are situations during pregnancy or labor necessitating medical assistance, including cesarean birth. When birth looks different than you originally imagined, you may be wondering, how might a doula provide support during a cesarean birth? While your provider’s role includes caring for your medical needs to ensure that you and your baby are safe and healthy, your doula’s role includes caring for your emotional wellbeing and your physical comfort, and supporting your shared decision-making process with your provider, so you can have the most positive birth experience possible. 

That’s right. BIRTH experience. We believe every birth is a birth, every birth is natural, and every birth is an experience. 

Oftentimes, our clients want to know what can be done to make the birth experience as positive as possible in the event of a c-section. Here are some of the tips we like to offer up to our birthing clients. Of course, we also recognize the individual experience, and work with each client 1:1 to carefully decide what strategies and advice work best. 

When to Call Your Provider

Excess bleeding or clots bigger than a golf-ball

Redness, swelling, or discharge from the incision site

Pain around the incision site

You develop a fever

Bad-smelling discharge from the vagina

Redness or swelling in your leg

Chest pain

Explore your options: Conversations with your Provider

  • What are your options for emotional and physical support during the  preparation, delivery, and recovery periods?
  • What is the layout of the operating room? Where will the baby be for the initial care? Can the support person move from baby’s side to your side?
  • When are pictures allowed? In the operating room, recovery/pacu/triage rooms?
  • Are ‘family-friendly/gentle’ approaches possible during the surgery? These may include:
    • One arm being left unrestrained to hold or interact with your baby.
    • The screen being lowered when the baby is lifted out, so you can see the birth, if desired.
  • Baby brought to you for skin to skin / cheek to skin? Can skin to skin be done by your support person, if not you, in the operating room? 
  • Can your support person cut the umbilical cord while attached to placenta or once baby is at warming bed.

Control what you can: Maximize your Comfort

  • Eat low fat, high fiber foods and drink plenty of water for the days leading up to your surgery. This helps keep your bowel movement soft, something you want for after surgery.
  • If you like certain scents, consider rubbing essential oils on your cheeks and/or your support person’s wrists, for you to smell.
  • Some clients prefer to listen to music during the surgery so they can keep calm. Have a playlist on your support person’s phone, to be played during the procedure or you can bring headphones to listen to during the procedure (as long as the anesthesiologist approves.)
  • Use soothing techniques such as slowed breathing and mental imagery.
  • Ask your support person to hold your hand during surgery.
c-section recovery milestones. Sit up: within 30 minutes. Breastfeed my newborn: within 30 minutes. Eat a light meal and drink: within 6 to 8 hours. Get up and walk: within 12 hours. Pee without a catheter: within 12 hours. Go home: within 2 to 4 days. Lift my baby: within 2 to 4 days. Get off Rx painkillers: within 1 week. Have sex: within 6 to 8 weeks. Exercise: within 6 to 8 weeks.

Understand what heading home looks like: Setting Expectations

  • You will have some cramping (especially if you are breastfeeding).
  • You will have vaginal bleeding and may have small blood clots. Wear sanitary pads.
    • Do not put anything inside your vagina (douche, tampons, etc.) until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Set up extra help for two weeks from a spouse, sibling, grandparent, friend or neighbor. These adults can help bring the baby to you for feedings and cuddles, and then carry the baby back when diaper changes are needed. Trying to do all of that yourself can interfere with recovery. 
  • If your home has stairs, it may be helpful to set up a small station on each floor of things you may need (diapers, wipes, spit cloths, sanitary pads, medicines for you and baby). Avoid taking multiple trips up and down stairs.
  • You will probably need to take at least 6 weeks off work, depending on the tasks your job requires and the rate of your healing.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding and aerobic exercise, for 6 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Remember to ask about incision care. And most importantly, don’t hesitate to reach out to your provider with questions or concerns once you’re home.

Postpartum Mental Health Support

Whether your cesarean birth was planned or unplanned, it can be helpful to speak with a professional if you feel overwhelmed, sad and/or depressed. Please reach out if you want additional support and we can pass some recommendations for professionals to you.

A few last notes, and intentions from your doulas:

There is no shame in asking for help. Remember our blog on building a support team?

Your body and mind have put time and energy into growing a baby and bringing your baby to the world.

Your body and mind both need rest.

Your experience is your own, but there are so many out there who can relate.

You are unique but you are not alone