In Labor, Gravity Is Your Friend

By Julie Brill | April 8, 2016 | Comments Off on In Labor, Gravity Is Your Friend

Imagine a woman giving birth. What position do you see her birth art uprightin? If, like most people, your views on birth have been shaped by what you see on tv and in the movies, you likely imagine her lying flat on her back in a hospital bed. Traditionally birth took place at home, and people formed their impressions by direct experience. When birth was largely institutionalized in the United States in the first half of the last century, most people no longer witnessed births, except those of their own children, and so media images came to replace live ones. For more information on the way that media influences our perceptions of birth, I highly recommend the documentary Laboring Under an Illusion.

Lying flat on the back, also known as the lithotomy position, turns out to be one of the hardest positions there is to give birth in (short of standing on your head!) It can cause non-reassuring fetal heart tones and more pain. The more upright the laboring mother is, the more gravity will help her baby to descend. I tell my childbirth classes that labor is the one time in a woman’s life when gravity is her friend! Very few un-medicated women would ever choose to labor on their backs. In labor we get important signals from our bodies about what positions are best. Women who labor in the positions of their choice experience shorter labors than those whose movement is restricted.

Squatting gives the baby the most room to descend. The female pelvis is thirty percent bigger when squatting, than it is when lying flat. Thirty percent is a lot! Because of that, when women squat their babies descend more quickly, with less pressure. Squatting is called the midwives forceps. Midwives don’t actually use forceps, but the idea is that when the mother squats with the midwife’s encouragement, the baby comes as quickly as if she had.

In many places in the world where people live without cook stoves or toilets, they squat frequently. Because Americans over the age of three or four rarely squat, getting reacquainted with the squat during your pregnancy is worthwhile. You can do a free squat, hold on to someone or something, or squat with your back against the wall. Place your feet far enough apart that you can get your heels flat on the floor.

Hands and knees, or knee chest, is an excellent position for back labor, because it helps to move the pressure off the mother’s back. Back labor is often caused by the back of the baby’s head, rather than her face, being against the mother’s spine. This position can often cause a longer labor, because the baby usually needs to rotate to be born. Knee chest helps to rotate the baby into an easier position. For information on how to prevent and handle back labor, Spinning Babies is an excellent resource.

A position to try when labor is slow is lunging. If lunging on a side feels neutral, try lunging the other way. Often one side will feel really good. When a baby is acinclitic (crooked) his head is disproportionately on one side. Lunging will feel good because it opens the pelvis to relieve some of the pressure, while also give the baby room to rearrange her head.

A good childbirth class will give you the opportunity to practice these positions and learn more as well. Understanding them is not enough. It’s important to experience them prenatally and use them as tools if needed in labor.

Julie Brill, CCCE, CLD has been teaching childbirth classes in the Boston area since 1992 and mentoring childbirth educators and labor doulas since 2003. She specializes in natural, VBAC, twin, and refresher childbirth classes. Julie is the author of the doula anthology Round the Circle: Doulas Share Their Experiences. To register for a childbirth class or a childbirth educator or labor doula training visit

Pregnant? Increase Your Chances of Birthing Vaginally

By Julie Brill | April 5, 2016 | Comments Off on Pregnant? Increase Your Chances of Birthing Vaginally

Most women plan to give birth vaginally, yet more than one in three babies are born by cesarean in the United States. There are many things you can do prenatally and in labor to help to lower your risk of cesarean.

Start by asking your provider what his or her cesarean rate is, and compare that to others in your area. The World Health Organization says a cesarean rate of ten to fifteen percent is optimal; rates above that increase the risk for mother and babies. While very few American providers have rates that low, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) came out with new recommendations for obstetricians last year in which they strongly urge obs to lower their cesarean rates to make birth safer for mothers and babies.

We’ve long know that cesareans increase the mother’s risk due to higher rates of infection, hemorrhage, and the risks of anesthesia. Newer research is also focusing on the risks to cesarean born babies, including higher rates of allergies and asthma. This may be because they don’t have the opportunity to be colonized by their mothers’ vaginal fauna. Cesareans can also initially complicate breastfeeding and require a longer recovery time. Having a cesarean increases the chances that a woman’s next baby will also be born by cesarean, and the surgical risks increase with each cesarean birth.

“I would absolutely recommend other women to seek a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC), and I’d certainly recommend birthing vaginally.” says Jennifer Heller, a mother I spoke with who has had given birth twice vaginally and once by cesarean. Her cesarean was medically indicated and she has no regrets about it, but she told me “At a very visceral level, experiencing my body give birth vaginally to a baby has empowered me in ways I don’t even fully understand. Not to mention the recovery was so much easier!”

One of ACOG’s recommendations for how providers can lower cesarean rates is to work with doulas. A doula’s presence has long been known to lower the rates of interventions including cesareans. She can suggest labor positions and techniques, answer questions and provide reassurance, and help your partner to support you. Women who birth with doulas are more likely to delay or avoid an epidural, which reduces their cesarean risk. A doula’s presence is calming; the calmer you are in labor, the less likely it is that your labor will stall or your baby will go into distress. While doctors, midwives, and nurses are usually on shifts, your doula is a familiar face you can count on to be at your labor, and she’ll be there for the entire time. She can come to your home in early labor if you want her to, go to the hospital with you (the car ride is often a challenging time in labor) and be with you until you are settled in your postpartum room.

I asked Liz Libby, who birthed twins by cesarean and went on to give birth to her third baby vaginally, how having a doula made a difference at her vaginal birth. She told me “having great birth support is really important, and my doulas got me through a lot. I’m not sure I could have done it without them.” Ask your friends and family with young children if they can recommend a doula, or seek suggestions from your childbirth educator, prenatal yoga instructor, or midwife.

In its statement ACOG changed the definition of active labor, saying that now it doesn’t start until six centimeters dilation. This change means women should be staying at home in labor longer. The more established your labor is when you come into the hospital, the less likely you will be sent home, or given drugs such as pitocin to speed up your labor. Labor inductiondoubles a mother and baby’s risk of cesarean, so ACOG is also encouraging providers not to do any non-medical inductions before forty-two weeks.

Take Care of Yourself During Pregnancy
Taking care of yourself prenatally will help to ensure that your baby is born vaginally. Focus on exercising regularly, staying hydrated (dehydration can lead to preterm labor), and looking for ways to reduce your stress levels, such as getting outdoors, sleeping enough, practicing meditation or yoga, warm baths, and treating yourself to a prenatal massage.

Excellent nutrition is so important. Today you are growing your baby’s brain, heart, liver. While reading labels is important, the best food has no labels: a glass of milk, homemade chili, a bunch of grapes. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, through produce, dairy, meat, and the bakery, and try to avoid the middle isles where the heavily processed foods are. Eat a whole grain, a protein, and a fruit or vegetable at each meal. Simple changes like whole wheat bread instead of white on your sandwich, or a fruit yogurt midmorning instead of a fruit Danish, make a difference.

Childbirth Class
Take an in depth childbirth class. When possible, learn from an independent instructor, not one who teaches for hospital or doctor’s practice. She’ll be able to provide you with an unbiased view of practices and policies, and because she works for you, will only be responsible to you. Practicing contraction rituals and support techniques in class and at home, including massage, positions, hot/cold therapy, and use of the birth ball and rebozo, will give you lots of tools to use in labor. Learning informed consent and decision making skills will help you to make decisions in labor that will create a satisfying birth experience. The Listening to Mothers Survey has shown that understanding interventions and truly consenting to them is essential for postpartum birth satisfaction. If possible, tour more than one hospital to learn about different options in your community.

If your baby is breech after thirty-two to thirty-four weeks, consider alternative options to encourage him or her to turn. Hypnotherapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic adjustment have all been shown to be effective. Turning your baby, when possible, is important because few American women have the option of vaginal breech births. Discuss manual version with your provider.

Many pregnant women who have had cesareans want to give birth vaginally (VBAC) to their subsequent babies, in part because while the risk increases with each cesarean, it decreases with each VBAC. The non-profit International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) is a volunteer-run organization which supports moms by preventing unnecessary cesareans through education, providing support for cesarean recovery, and promoting VBAC. They provide free meetings where women can discuss pregnancy, labor and birth, postpartum, share birth stories, and hear guest speakers. I spoke with Kira Kim, the leader of the Eastern Massachusetts ICAN chapter about ICAN, and she told me “as a mother that had cesareans with my first two, and a natural birth with my third, the group and its mission are close to my heart. ICAN is a great way to learn about VBAC both through education and access to local resources.”

I asked Liz Libby, mother of three, why a VBAC was important to her. She told me,”I have always felt that birth is a tremendous formative experience in a woman’s life, and I felt I was robbed of it the first time around. With my twins, I had a high-risk pregnancy, and was highly managed by physicians who seemed not at all concerned with my experience of birth. I wanted something different the second time: a safe, peaceful, normal birth with care providers who were knowledgeable, caring, and concerned with my experience. Having the right care provider, for me it was midwives in a homebirth setting, made all the difference. I cannot stress enough how important it is to find a care provider who is 100% on board with your VBAC plan. This goes for any mom looking to have a vaginal birth as well. I know my VBAC would not have happened with a different care provider. “

Jennifer Heller, another VBAC mom I spoke with echoes this. “When I was pregnant with my third child, I was confident that a vaginal birth was the best thing for myself and my baby. There was never any doubt in me that I could have a vaginal birth again, but I didn’t want to have to argue about it with providers. Having a provider who supported me and a husband who also had confidence in the birth process helped me worry less. I found a doula who was lovely. I just needed folks around me who shared my confidence.”

Julie Brill, CCCE, CLD teaches natural childbirth and VBAC classes in the Boston area and via Skype. She offers Prepare for Cesarean Birth, Heal Faster phone workshops and trains childbirth educators and labor doulas for CAPPA. She is the author of the anthology Round the Circle: Doulas Share Their Experiences.

Milk Banks and Donor Moms Save Lives

By Julie Brill | April 3, 2016 | Comments Off on Milk Banks and Donor Moms Save Lives

I recently got to tour the Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast. What an inspiring field trip for someone who is fascinated by all things lactation! I watched donor milk being pasteurized, toured the freezers, and learned about the bank’s operations. It was awesome to see so much human milk at once!

The American Academy of Pediatricians and the World Health Organization recommend human milk for all babies. The first choice, of course, is that a baby receives milk from his or her mother. If that is impossible, the second best option is donor milk. Non-profit Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) banks, like the one I toured, screen potential donors, pasteurize donor milk, and provide it by prescription to fragile babies in need. Last year Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast dispensed 202,914 ounces of milk from nearly 500 donors. Much of that milk went to feed premies, who average a quarter of an ounce per meal.

Donated milk makes a dramatic difference for fragile babies. While ten to seventeen percent of preterm babies who get formula develop necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially fatal condition, only 1.5% of premies fed human milk develop it. The cost of caring for infants with NEC is .6 billion annually.

“Donor milk saves the lives of some of our most fragile babies.” Morgan Henderson, one of three donor intake coordinators at Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast, told me. “Donating milk is not difficult. Milk processed by HMBANA milk banks is safe for fragile babies because donors are carefully screened, and the donated milk is processed and tested before being distributed.” Some common reasons babies receive donor milk is preterm birth, failure to thrive, malabsorption syndromes, allergies, feeding/formula intolerance, immunologic deficiencies, pre- or post-operative nutrition, and infectious diseases.

“I strongly encourage my friends who find themselves with surplus milk to consider donating to the milk bank,” Mira Whiting shared with me. She’s the mother of two young boys. Since she was lucky enough to have an oversupply, she wanted to share with other moms who were struggling to make enough milk. She initially donated informally, fearing that the donor application and screening process with a milk bank would be arduous. But she says “the hassle I was so worried about when I thought about donating was a total non-issue. I called the milk bank and had a fairly short conversation with one of the donor intake coordinators. She ran through a series of questions to determine if I qualified to be a donor. Then she mailed me a blood sample kit, which I just took to my midwife’s office. When I realized how easy it actually was, I was kind of kicking myself for not doing it the first time around.“ Mira donated 190 ounces to the bank.

“While it was very satisfying with the informal route to give to a baby I knew and would get to watch grow up,” Mira said. “I also felt really strongly that I wanted my milk to help the babies who didn’t have someone in their personal circle who could do that for them. I saw the science, particularly on what a HUGE difference human milk can make for babies who are very premature and medically fragile. I felt the only way I could help to give back/pay it forward this huge gift mother nature had given me in the form of my abundant milk supply was to donate to those babies.“

Some NICUs, such as the one at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, provide donor milk to all babies whose mothers can’t provide them with enough of their milk. Other times, parents of fragile babies get a prescription and contact their nearest milk bank themselves. To donate extra milk or to receive milk for a baby in need, contact your closest milk bank.

Julie Brill is a childbirth educator, La Leche League Leader, and doula in Bedford, MA. She provides childbirth education classes in the Boston area and by Skype, and trains childbirth educators and labor doulas for CAPPA. She also offers Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster phone sessions for women with planned cesarean births. Her first book is Round the Circle: Doulas Share Their Experiences.

What Does Natural Birth Mean to You?

By Julie Brill | April 1, 2016 | Comments Off on What Does Natural Birth Mean to You?

What do you think? After teaching natural childbirth classes for twenty-four years, I’ve learned that natural birth means different things to different people. Was my four hour Pitocin induced labor a natural birth, because I had no pain medications? Or only my two hour homebirth which my midwives barely made? I once asked my natural childbirth students what natural birth meant; the consensus was anything short of an epidural, including other pain medications, was natural birth. So I’ve come to see it as a continuum.

On one end are homebirths like the ones I was lucky to attend when I was a midwifery apprentice in the early 1990s. Michel Odent calls them undisturbed births. The mother is in her home, and she runs the show. She eats and drinks what and when she wants, is along or surrounded by people she knows well and has invited, walks or rests, moans, complains, sings, or is silent, gets in her tub if she wants. The baby is born and goes directly on mom’s chest with the cord attached. There is no small talk. It is all mamababy time. There are no bright lights, no unnecessary questions or exams, no separation.

The spectrum of natural childbirth, according to many, seems also to include inductions, analgesics, IVs, ruptured membranes, almost anything except an epidural. I don’t feel it’s for me, or anyone, to label another woman’s birth experiences. I love what Joyce Maynard says about her birth experiences. “Before I had children I always wondered whether their births would be, for me, like the ultimate in gym class failures. And I discovered instead…that I’d finally found my sport.” Natural birth can be about discovering what our bodies can do.

I asked readers of my WellPregnancy Facebook page why they birthed naturally. One mom posted, “I didn’t want to experience drug side effects and I didn’t want my baby to experience those side effects. There wasn’t time for drugs and I trusted my body and my baby.” Another remembered, “I didn’t get a natural experience the first time, and that left me feeling disappointed. I gave birth naturally because I knew my body could, and in the end it was the most empowering feeling I have ever had!” And a third shared, “After having an epidural with my first birth, I felt like I had totally lost control over myself and the process. I felt that the process was meant to be honored. So my second and third births were natural, unmedicated. I had control back. I was able to feel what my body was capable of doing. And it was amazing and empowering!!”

As a culture we believe that pain is unacceptable. But when we numb out sensation in labor, we diminish our endorphin levels and the endorphin levels of our babies. The pain is dulled, but so is the exuberance we are meant to experience afterwards, when contractions are over and mother and baby bathe in the highest endorphin levels, higher than what marathoners get. Martha Beck captures it when she wrote, “Anyone who has felt the pain of bearing a child, or pushed past physical limits in some athletic event, or struggled to learn difficult but powerful truths understands that suffering can be an integral part of the most profound joy. In fact, once suffering has ended, having experienced it seems to magnify the capacity… to feel pleasure and delight.”

Because endorphins are released in spurts during labor in the brains of the mother and baby along with oxytocin, when the endorphin levels are tampered with due to the use of pain medication, oxytocin is also reduced. Oxytocin drives labor, and when levels drop, labor slows. That is part of why 50% of women with epidurals require augmentation with Pitocin, which is synthetic oxytocin. Pitocin risks include fetal distress, uterine rupture, cesarean birth, postpartum depression.

Sometimes when a mother has great difficulty relaxing, or is exhausted, an epidural is a blessing. The problem is not the use of epidurals, it’s the overuse. Women with excellent preparation and appropriate support are less likely to find themselves in situations where they need epidurals. Taking an independent childbirth class to learn and practice comfort measures and support techniques, including use of the birth ball, massage, rebozo, hot/cold therapy, counter pressure, ahead of time is invaluable. The more tools the mom has, the better equipped for labor she’ll be. Place of birth matters. Laboring with access to a tub and unlimited food and drink helps. Choosing a professional team that includes a doctor, midwife and/or nurse who regularly support unmedicated women, means laboring with people who know what to do. A doula can also make a big difference; her only job is to provide physical, emotional, and informational support. “Birthing women can never have too much support,” Carol Densmore told me in an interview. “If people seek good support it’s not a sign of weakness or vulnerability. Rather, being well supported and well held, allows childbearing women to access their deepest courage.”

Midwives throughout human history have developed strategies and tools to help laboring women. “The choice is not between anesthesia and unremitting agony.” Sandra Steingraber wrote. “One is not asked to lie in a hospital bed and… bite a bullet and suffer.” Pain in childbirth, unlike most pain, is not a sign that something is wrong. The mom who is in a place mentally where she can understand that and work with, rather than against, her contractions, will experience labor quite differently. And when it is over, when she’s done it, and she’s holding her newborn, she’ll likely have a sense of satisfaction and of her own strength, a great platform from which to begin the work of new motherhood.


Cervical Exams: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Julie Brill | March 29, 2016 | Comments Off on Cervical Exams: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

“Is this something I have to do?” my childbirth students frequently ask me about cervical exams. The short answer is no. Especially in teaching hospitals, women are often examined in labor frequently, without even knowing why. The most important question to ask when considering an exam, like any other test, is “What will we do with this information?” Discuss your preferences regarding cervical exams with your provider prenatally, and include it in your birth plan.

The good news about exams is they can be helpful when a laboring woman is deciding whether to stay in the hospital and be admitted, or go home, or if this is a good time for her to get pain medication. They can provide encouraging news to women if they show increased dilation in labor. In the absence of increased dilation, they can still be encouraging, if she is able to get positive news about increased effacement (thinning) of the cervix or station of the baby.

The bad news about exams is they increase the risk of infection, especially when they are done after the release or artificial rupture of membranes (water breaking). In a hospital setting, they are usually done in bed, which is often an uncomfortable place to be during labor. Sometimes a woman is laboring successfully in out of bed positions, but after getting in bed for an exam she stays in bed, which can slow labor and increase pain. If an exam does not yield information about increased progress, it can be discouraging. VBAC women especially may wish to avoid exams during their labors until they are quite confident they have progressed past the farthest dilation of their last labors.

We all come from a long line of women stretching back to the beginning of time who have successfully birthed babies. When students ask me if exams are something they have to do, I like to think of those grandmothers laboring without exams, pushing when they had the urge to do so. The energy of birth is down and out, and having an exam in labor can often feel like energy flowing in the wrong direction

What the laboring mom wants to know is how much longer will it be until she is holding her baby in her arms; exams don’t give this information. Imagine driving on the highway and seeing a sign that tells you what town you have entered. Without knowing how quickly you’re driving, knowing where you are doesn’t tell you when you’ll arrive at your destination. Likewise, cervical dilation in labor is only a mile marker, not an indication of when your baby will be born.

For women with a history of sexual abuse, probably about one third of laboring women, exams can be triggers. It’s also important to remember that exams are subjective, what feels like six centimeters to one provider, might be seven to another. In precipitous labors, women will often have transition like contractions before their cervixes catch up to that dilation, and being in transition with a cervix that seems to have only begun to dilate can be quite discouraging.

And what about prenatal cervical exams? While these can be encouraging or discouraging, depending on the information they yield, they don’t necessarily indicate how close a women is to starting labor. Again as with all tests, a great question when considering a prenatal cervical exam is “What will we do with this information?”

Lower Your Postpartum Stress

By Julie Brill | March 29, 2016 | Comments Off on Lower Your Postpartum Stress
  1. Ask for what you need. This is often difficult for new parents, but if friends and family offer to help, ask them for specific favors. Do you need someone to vacuum, pick up items at the grocery store, or fold laundry? Can a different person bring you dinner for a week or two? Tell visitors ahead of time that they will only be able to stay a short time since you are busy taking care of your new baby. You may also want to consider hiring a cleaning service or postpartum doula, and registering for meal help from friends and family at Meal Train.
  2. Practice the breathing and visualization you learned in childbirth class. Deep breathing can help you to relax now. Extra oxygen is a natural tranquilizer and can help you feel less stressed. When calming a crying baby, try taking a few deep breaths. You may have used visualization during labor, now try seeing your body relax, or imagine yourself in a restful spot, such as the beach. Picture breathing in a pleasant smell or color. Smiling releases endorphins so that may help as well.
  3. Reach out to other new parents. Call or email other students from your childbirth class to see how they are doing. Attend a La Leche League meeting, a Baby Cafe, a breastfeeding group at your local hospital, or a new mom support group.
  4. Breastfeed. Nursing releases oxytocin, which makes you feel calmer and lowers your blood pressure. It also promotes mother and baby bonding. Breastfeeding is a time for the mother to rest. It promotes uterine contractions; the faster the uterus contracts the less lochia flow there will be, which leads to higher iron levels and less fatigue. Breastmilk never needs to be prepared or heated, and there are no bottles to clean or trips to the store. Set up a nursing station where everything you need will be within arms reach: a snack, a drink, your phone, the remote control, someplace to put the baby down, a book, etc. If you live in a two-story house establish a changing station with diapers, wipes, and clean baby clothes downstairs so you can reduce the number of trips you make up and down stairs.
  5. Plan ahead. If there are specific times of day that seem to be fussy times for your baby, plan to call or meet a friend during that time. If dinner-time is difficult try making dinner earlier in the day, order out, or eat cereal for dinner. If you have a few minutes in the evening, gather together what you will need for the next day so your diaper bag, purse, and keys are ready. Set up snacks that your older child can help him or herself to when you’re busy with the baby. While you’re at it, set up some easy-to-reach, healthy snacks for yourself.
  6. Focus on what you’re eating. Good nutrition doesn’t have to be fancy. A scrambled egg is quick and easy. Cheese on whole-wheat crackers is a good snack, so are bananas, apples, nuts, yogurt, dried fruit, natural peanut butter, edamame or a glass of milk. Eating well will lower your stress level and help you heal faster.
  7. Sleep as much as possible. Sleep deprivation is actually a form of torture! Prioritize sleeping during the day when your baby sleeps, since you know your night-time sleep will be interrupted. The more you rest now the faster you will heal from birth. During the day, lie down even when you cannot sleep. Remember women in traditional cultures have a lying in period where all they do is rest in bed and feed their babies. Try to learn to nurse your baby lying down so you don’t have to sit up for every feed.
  8. Try to exercise a bit. Once your body has healed from birth, walking with your baby will release endorphins that make you feel better. Even just standing for a few minutes on one foot will reduce your stress as your body focuses on keeping your balance.
  9. Lower your standards. Your home will now look like you share it with a new baby. It’s ok if it’s not quite as neat as it was before. It may take a while for those thank you notes or birth announcements to get out. Taking care of a baby is a full time job.
  10. Think about what is helpful for you. For some new mothers the whole day seems better if they can greet it dressed and showered; they prioritize showering before their partners leave the house, or they have a visitor watch the baby so they can grab a shower. Others would rather sleep as much as possible and find that staying in their pajamas causes guests to shorten their stay. Try to keep in mind that the intensity of caring for a newborn is temporary. Someday you may look back on this time with nostalgia. Even though your nights may seem long now, babies grow quickly so takes lot of pictures and record your baby’s milestones. Most importantly take moments to enjoy his or her babyhood and be fully in the moment.

Will Your Baby Be Born By Scheduled Cesarean? Prepare Now!

By Julie Brill | March 28, 2016 | Comments Off on Will Your Baby Be Born By Scheduled Cesarean? Prepare Now!

While vaginal birth is the safest way to birth for most mothers and babies, there are medical reasons why some babies are born by scheduled cesarean. If your baby will be born by cesarean, here are some things to consider.

Learn more about gentle cesareans, also called family centered cesareans. Watch this video with Dr. Camann and this one which shows what’s possible during a cesarean. One of the most important parts of a woman’s cesarean birth story is usually whether or not she was able to be with her baby right away. With gentle cesareans women are holding their newborns skin to skin, and even breastfeeding them, during the cesarean. If this is not possible, ask that your partner or another family member be able hold the baby skin to skin immediately.

An upcoming cesarean birth can be anxiety provoking and taking a Prepare for Cesarean Birth, Heal Faster one hour phone session will help you to relax prenatally and heal faster postpartum. This program, created by Peggy Huddleston for surgical patients, and developed by me to meet the needs of cesarean moms, includes a book and relaxation cd. It has been shown to reduce anxiety and help with insomnia prenatally, and decrease recovery time. Because the mother and baby communicate constantly hormonally during pregnancy, being able to relax now will allow your baby to relax as well. The baby who is relaxed prenatally, is the baby who will be a calmer newborn.

One support person, often the partner, is almost always present during cesareans. He or she sits on a stool behind the mother’s shoulders, and can’t see the surgery. Both parents see the baby being lifted over the drapes.  It may be possible for you to have a second support person, such as your mother, sister, best friend, or doula, with you as well. Doulas aren’t just for vaginal births. A doula can help you remain calm before and during your cesarean birth, and to help you with breastfeeding afterwards. Meet with your anesthesiologist ahead of time to get answers to your anesthesia questions, and to ensure that your doula or other second support person can be with you in the operating room. Having two support people means that if the baby needs to go to the NICU, one person can be with the baby and one with the mom. Your partner, or anyone who has spent a lot of time with you during your pregnancy, will be a familiar and reassuring presence to the baby, who will recognize his or her voice.

Prepare now for postpartum. A postpartum doula will help you during your recovery at home. Moms who have had cesareans are usually told not to lift anything heavier than the baby. That means no laundry and no carrying groceries during the weeks you are recovering. Learn about breastfeeding while you’re pregnant and consider attending a La Leche League or other breastfeeding support meeting now. You will be able to take pain medications that are compatible with breastfeeding.

We’re beginning to understand the human microbiome and how being born by cesarean affects a baby’s microbiome. While the research is in its infancy, some women are now using a vaginal swab to inoculate their newborns in order to expose them to the bacteria they would have encountered had they been born vaginally.

Finally know that even though this baby needs to be born by cesarean, you may be able to give birth to your next baby vaginally (VBAC). The International Cesarean Awareness Network is a great resource for women recovering from cesareans or preparing to VBAC.

Contact WellPregnancy

Julie Brill, CCCE, CLD, IBCLC
Julie (at)


We are responsible to the next generation of birthing women. Let it be known that we did not watch in silence as birthing rights were taken away. - Tracy Wilson Peters