Help Along The Way

Doulas can do more than just support you in the birthing room. They can be an invaluable support after you bring your baby home.
Photograph by Marlene Rounds.

There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and while that’s certainly true, it’s only half of the story. Because really, it takes a village to raise a mother.

Becoming a mother is monumental life change; a line in the sand with a clear “before” and “after.” And the after? Well, it starts before your baby is even born. Prenatal care is crucial, and that’s something our country continues to improve upon. Then there’s, of course, childbirth, an event that looks different for every single mother and family, with various degrees of medical intervention and assistance. This, too, is an experience the U.S. is constantly striving to improve.

Postnatal care, however, is a work in progress. For many moms, there’s the initial hospital stay, which is sometimes as short as a mere 24 hours, followed by a six-week checkup with their OB-GYN. That’s it. There’s no sticking our toes in the shallow end and cautiously wading in; moms are thrown straight into the deep end with little more than an ice pack and some extra-strength acetaminophen.

While the weeks leading up to birth were filled with classes, prenatal appointments, and exciting milestones, the postnatal period is fraught with physical changes, sleep deprivation, an emotional roller coaster of hormones, and the daunting task of caring for a teeny, tiny, helpless little human. This is arguably the time moms need the most support, and luckily, there are wonderful services in Cincinnati that offer holistic health care for new moms: midwives, doulas, lactation consultants, placenta encapsulation, bespoke services, and more. There are myriad holistic options worth exploring as you navigate through the early days of motherhood, forming your own village of support along the way.

What To Expect When You’re Expecting: Doula Edition

The moment those two pink lines appear on an at-home pregnancy test is life changing, and the emotional and physical changes follow shortly thereafter. While Cincinnati is home to some amazing and world-renowned medical care, the experience can feel rather impersonal for new moms, says Lisa Suttschenko, co-owner of Gentle Seed Doulas.

“A lot of times, families hire us because their experience with a provider tends to be a bit more clinical,” she says, adding that while most OB-GYNs have excellent bedside manners, prenatal appointments can feel very rushed and impersonal. There are numerous prenatal appointments during those important nine months; still, the time a woman actually spends with her doctor is a blip. But a doula? That’s a completely different kind of experience.

Unlike a midwife, who is a medical professional, a doula supports and advocates for families. “The most unique thing about the doula relationship is that we work specifically for [couples]. That gives [moms] more emotional security because we are there for things other than medical reasons. It’s more of a coach during the prenatal period, as well as an advocate to help them research,” says Suttschenko. “The birth world is huge and vast, and a lot of times…it’s a lot to take in. We can be the person to save you from going down the Google rabbit hole,” she says.

Emily Johnson, cofounder of the Doulas of Cincinnati, adds that doula support is an ancient practice that’s only recently gone out of style: “Traditionally speaking, there have always been people—particularly women—in communities that have been sought out during pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenthood. It’s only recently, over the last century or so, that our culture has turned away from this type of support, necessitating the role of professional support persons, like doulas.”

Johnson says Doulas of Cincinnati is looking to change the narrative, to “prioritize connection and presence of birthing persons and their partners during this once-in-a-lifetime experience…to quiet the noise so that new families can discover, articulate, and advocate for their unique vision for childbirth and early parenthood.”

In short, doulas are your prenatal wing women, available 24/7 and there for you in ways a doctor simply doesn’t have the bandwidth to be.

Labor and Delivery, Doula Style

As labor day approaches, having a doula can make all the difference. Suttschenko says that birth doulas “are there to impact labor/delivery in a positive way…for example, for moms opting not to have an epidural, we help them labor at home and then go to the hospital to help their labor progress.”

This brings up an often-sticky topic: epidurals, pain management, and medical intervention. But opting to have an epidural and doula are not mutually exclusive, says Suttschenko. “Our goal at Gentle Seed is to have a collaborative relationship with the hospital. We like to be encouraging and friendly and work with the hospital team.” She says that Gentle Seed doulas always introduce themselves to hospital staff and make sure everyone is on the same page. “We don’t have hushed conversations in the corner or do things that could alienate the nurses or doctors. We’re all on the same team,” she explains.

The biggest benefit of having a birthing doula? Support. Understanding. Having an advocate, says Johnson.

“I’ve always told doulas our main goal is to seek to understand. Seeking to understand our clients and their motivations, their fears, and their hopes; seeking to understand our clients’ care providers and their fears—yes, they’re human, too—seeking to understand our clients’ relationships with their family members, their spouses, their care providers, their baby.”

Taken a step further, says Johnson, a good doula will understand if a mom-to-be changes her mind about something. When interviewing a potential doula, she suggests asking questions like “Will you judge me if I make a different decision than you did, or than I said I wanted to originally? Can you support me totally without bias? Will you respect my relationship with my partner and others who will be present during our time together?” A good doula will be both understanding, nonjudgmental, and respectful, she says, adding that “the conversation between a potential client and a perspective doula should flow naturally.”

After the birth, a doula is there to help a new mom breastfeed (should she choose to—doulas do not judge either way), advocate for her, and simply be there emotionally and physically. This support can mean all the difference for moms and their overall birth experience.

The Fourth Trimester and Beyond

For most women, the relationship with their doctor ends at the six-week postpartum checkup. From here, they’re given the green light to return to work and exercise, and generally don’t see their OB-GYN again until their next pregnancy or annual visit.

But this postpartum period? It’s pivotal. It’s a time of huge hormonal shifts, astounding physical changes, intense emotions, bothersome anxiety, and sleep deprivation. There’s much talk about the fourth trimester—the first three months after birth—but the postpartum period lasts much longer than this. Breastfeeding, recovery from childbirth, postpartum anxiety and depression…a new mom’s journey doesn’t end at birth, and this is arguably the time she needs the most support. “New parenthood and self-care shouldn’t be mutually exclusive,” says Johnson, and this is where a postpartum doula steps in.

At Gentle Seed, for example, postpartum doulas are there to help support the family all the way up to the first year. “With postpartum work, we do day shifts of three to four hours to support the family. We can make food, do light chores, hold the baby while Mom takes a nap or a shower. We’re there for the mom so she can get some rest,” says Suttschenko, who adds that while most birthing doulas’ work ends in the first week after delivery, the doulas at Gentle Seed are all certified in postpartum care and early lactation support and are able to transition into postpartum roles for families as needed.

Doulas can even help a family plan for this time prenatally, so they will be well-prepared with nourishing meals, physical support, and referrals for extra help postpartum. “We don’t just leave you alone after your birth,” says Suttschenko. “We will check in periodically and give that gentle encouragement and love that is needed after a family brings a new baby into their world.”

For those hoping to breastfeed, a postpartum doula can help set moms up for success. Suttschenko says that all Gentle Seed doulas are certified in early lactation and can provide assistance both in the hospital and at home. For many moms, breastfeeding does not come naturally, and the stress of birth and early postpartum can adversely affect the experience. This is another area where a doula can provide emotional and physical support for new moms— plus a willingness to share their own personal experiences that can make a woman feel less alone in the early days of breastfeeding.

So why hire a postpartum doula? Because you deserve it.

Johnson explains that the “traditional” approach to childbirth is really to just “get through” childbirth and the early postpartum period—but moms deserve so much more.

“We deserve to fondly remember our baby’s kicks. We deserve someone who listens to us when we say we’re hurting, not dismiss us as experiencing normal pregnancy discomforts. We deserve to be treated without judgment or bias. We deserve to be asked what we want, to be centered throughout the birth process. We deserve to be honored and respected. We deserve safety. We deserve to have memories of the first time we looked at our babies, of counting their little fingers and toes. We deserve a connection with our partners that is deepened by childbirth, not strained. We deserve loving, tender care as we heal and learn to breastfeed, if choosing to do so. We deserve to be listened to and validated when we don’t love every moment. We deserve long hot showers, and meals at the kitchen table. We deserve connection with our older children. We deserve intimacy with our partners. We deserve sleep. We deserve grace and the space to change our minds, to be vulnerable. We deserve prompt help if we’re struggling emotionally. We deserve to be fully present with our new baby.”

We deserve a say in our own story, and perhaps for you, that means opting for support and expertise outside of our health care providers. There are no right or wrong ways; there’s just what’s more right for you.

The 411 on Placenta Encapsulation

Emily Johnson of Doulas of Cincinnati explains: “Placenta encapsulation involves steaming and dehydrating one’s placenta before processing it into a powder and pouring into capsules for consumption. While there are no quality studies that evaluate the benefits of placenta encapsulation as described here, our method is inspired by traditional Chinese medicine, where placentas (of other mammals) are regularly used to treat a variety of ailments. Anecdotally, placenta encapsulation is thought to help postpartum persons with better mood adjustment, increased milk supply, and faster postpartum recovery.”

Lisa Suttschenko of Gentle Seed Doulas adds, “A lot of the evidence is anecdotal; some moms report an easier time with postpartum hormonal shifts or that it helps with breastmilk production. There’s a lot of research on placebo, but it’s almost a safeguard—it’s something that can help new moms feel a bit more empowered.

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