The buzz about birth doulas usually centers around labor. Offering encouragement, massages, and the invaluable experience of helping numerous parents get through labor, a doula's role seems to concentrate around the intense hours leading up to a baby's birth.
But there's so much more to it!
On the day of birth, most doulas stay for a while after the baby has been born. And to be honest, that time is often as intense as labor, just in different ways.
This often takes parents by surprise! But as doulas, we've come to expect it and know how to help guide parents through a time that can feel like a whirlwind.
So, what can you expect in the hour or two following birth? And how can we help?
Talking you through things as they happen
After a vaginal birth, there is a lot that happens after baby is out. From delivering the placenta to any stitching needed to evaluating the baby, we can help you anticipate what's coming next and explain things that are happening. Often care providers will also be explaining things, but they don't always remember that most parents aren't fluent in medical language... so we can help.
After a cesarean birth, we can do the same thing in the recovery room (providing hospital staff allows us to accompany you during recovery), helping parents know what to expect and get their questions answered.
Help you focus
Sometimes after birth, a lot is being asked of parents all at once. This can be really overwhelming! Various care providers may be asking you to open your mouth so they can take your temperature, lift up your bottom and scoot one way or another on the bed, and take your clothes off your chest so you're ready for baby's first feeding. Seriously - we've seen parents asked to do these specific things all at the same time!
Since of course it's not reasonable to expect someone who has just birthed a human to do so much all at once - let alone listen to all the different voices in the room making those requests - we're there to help. We can soften around all the requests, helping you to focus on what's important. Sometimes, that includes a gentle reminder to care providers that you're doing the best you can so they can slow down a bit if needed.
A hand to hold
After a vaginal birth, the physical sensations of labor may have stopped but there is more to come. Normally if there is a partner, their focus is the baby. If the baby moves to the warmer, so does the partner. That means we are the ones staying with the person who just gave birth.
If there was any tearing and stitches are required, there can be painful or uncomfortable sensations (even if an epidural was used in labor). We often offer a hand to squeeze as you continue coping with those physical feelings.
Usually care providers will perform what's called uterine massage to make sure your uterus is contracting well and starting to return to its smaller pre-pregnancy size. This is important to prevent additional blood loss, but can be very uncomfortable.
And of course, if there are any concerns about you or your baby, we'll be there with you each step of the way.
After birth, there can be a lot of big things happening physically, but also emotionally. The intensity of those first couple hours after birth can include big rushes of emotion, or feeling very little emotion at all. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, we'll be there to reassure you that it's normal. People have all kinds of reactions to birth, but it's sometimes hard to feel that way when social media is full of triumphant "I did it!" pictures of new moms with their babies. There is HUGE variation of normal, and we can help you recognize that in the moment if things are feeling difficult.
Baby's first meal
This is one of the primary reasons some parents hire doulas - to make sure there is someone to help get breastfeeding started off on the right foot. We can help with baby's position and latch and help you feel more comfortable as you and your baby learn about each other in this way for the very first time.
If for whatever reason baby has a little trouble latching, we can teach you how to express your own milk so you can feed it to your baby an alternative way (for example, a spoon, syringe, or finger) rather than turning to formula right away. For parents wishing to feed baby breastmilk only as much as possible, this assistance can be very important.
Your first meal
After laboring and pushing, most new parents are ready to EAT - just like most new babies are! We love eating too, so of course it brings us joy to ask the hospital staff to bring you a menu so you can order your meal ;-)
If you birth by cesarean, chances are you won't feel up to eating much for a while after your surgery. But you should be able to have a good meal not toooo long afterward! If you're feeling hungry, let your care providers know!
The hour or two after birth can be busy for babies! In addition to learning about their parents for the first time, wanting to eat, and adjusting to the brightness and temperature outside the womb. Most babies born in a hospital will be weighed, measured, and have their heel pricked for a newborn screening test within their first couple hours. Some will also receive a vitamin K shot, hepatitis B vaccine, and erythromycin eye ointment, depending on their parents' wishes.
Our clients often have questions about these medications and procedures, and we've noticed that many times their concerns and questions go unanswered in the moment. We'll be there to facilitate helpful conversation with your care providers to make sure you have the information you need while your baby is being cared for in the hospital setting.
BRAIN doesn't end when baby is born
If you're wondering what that means, check out our blog post: The Reason You Need Your Brain and Heart in Labor. There are sometimes more decisions to be made in the immediate postpartum hours, and we will continue to support you in your decision-making process. Whether you need a few moments to gather your thoughts, want to ask some follow-up questions, or just want a sounding board as you think things over, we'll be there.
It's not unusual for there to be concerns about babies' blood sugar or temperature in those early hours. We can help you get answers to your questions and know what your options are in those situations.
Keeping you comfortable
Just like in labor, we can be an extra set of hands to grab you some water, lip balm, snacks, or a rubber band. If you need a blanket or some pillows, we can take care of that for you. Having someone in the room who didn't just give birth, watch their partner give birth, or meet the newest member of their family can be super helpful in a practical sense. We can take care of these little things while you attend to the business at hand - tending to your body and bonding with your baby!
Capturing the moment
We are not professional-level photographers by any means, but we're always happy to snap some photos after birth! We're happy to use your camera, your cell phone(s), or our cell phones to capture some of your first moments together with your new baby.