If you are planning a pregnancy after a cesarean, you may be considering a vaginal birth after cesarean, or VBAC. For people in Muskegon and along the West Michigan lakeshore, you may not know anyone who has ever chosen this option, so finding support is key. I have compiled this list of VBAC resources to help you educate yourself about your choices.
Research shows that having a doula reduces the risk of having a cesarean and increases the chances of a successful VBAC. As with a primary cesarean, the biggest factors to influence the success of a planned VBAC are the provider and facility. Doulas are aware of all of available options, so find one early in your pregnancy.
Only 6% of birthing families hire a doula, so it may be hard to start your search. When asked why they chose a specific doula, most people say that they clicked, or had a good vibe. For this reason, most doulas, including myself, offer a free consultation in your home or the location of your choice.
Resources for finding doulas in your area include your healthcare provider, DoulaMatch.net, birthingnaturally.net and Doulas.com. The Facebook page for the Lakeshore Doula Network includes a list of doulas that practice in the greater Muskegon area.
International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN)
ICAN of Grand Rapids, the nearest chapter, supports pregnant people who are looking to avoid an unnecessary cesarean, those who are recovering from cesarean surgery and those who are planning to have a VBAC. People gather once a month to share their stories, increase their knowledge and get support.
As a doula who has only had vaginal births, I attended a couple of meetings to listen and learn more about how to support my clients who have cesareans and are planning VBACs. While the focus of birth is often on the physical health of the birthing person and infant(s), ICAN is a nonjudgmental space to get support for the emotional aspects of birth. Knowing they are not alone and being able to tell one’s story is often a first step toward healing.
Here are some of my favorite resources for learning more about VBAC:
- VBAC Education Project (VEP): VEP was created by Nicette Jukelevics, MA, ICCE to “empower women to make their own decisions about how they want to give birth after a cesarean and to provide VBAC-friendly birth professionals and caregivers with the tools and resources to support them.” All materials are downloadable for free. I had the pleasure of meeting Nicette at the 2016 ICAN conference and she was very passionate about getting her materials to people who can benefit from them. I’ve used VEP materials in my own teaching and am grateful for such an accessible resource!
- Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC): Informed and Ready: This is a Lamaze childbirth education online class for parents. Curious about the content for my own teaching, I paid the $29.95 and watched it myself back in May of 2015. It covers the emotional aspects of a cesarean, factors affecting VBAC success, the risks of repeat cesareans for moms and babies, the risks of VBAC, how to choose a provider, resources for parents and more! Not a bad deal to receive guidance in childbirth after cesarean from the comfort of your own home.
- VBACFacts.com: Jen Kamel founded this website, which provides “realistic, powerful, non-biased, research-based, trustworthy and balanced” information on VBAC for parents and professionals. Her online course for parents, “The Truth About VBAC for Families,” is $299 and includes many resources. Jen Kamel is more than an authority on VBACs, she is a strong advocate for childbirth choices! Her current work helping to reverse hospital VBAC bans will positively impact many.
As a doula, I hear many stories of the difficulties some women experience with breastfeeding. Although I have lots of training in the basics, my role is to help facilitate early initiation of breastfeeding through skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. In the postpartum period, I can provide referrals to lactation specialists, but my main form of support is informational and emotional.
What if I could provide education prenatally that would help women prevent the most common challenges? If not properly identified and corrected, many breastfeeding issues can get out of hand in a short amount of time, before some women are even able to identify who to seek help from!
This gave me the idea of a survey. What better way to improve my understanding of the experiences of local women than to ask them? The response was overwhelming: in 48 hours, I had over 80 responses!
Before I share the results, I have to clarify that this is not the same as research. Most of the respondents found the survey through My Breast Friends, a Muskegon-area Facebook group started by Mercy Health to provide a social media extension of their twice weekly support groups. For this reason, they are not representative of the general population, but it’s a great group to ask if you want to know what works!
For example, the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program collects data on breastfeeding for program enrollees. While not all breastfeeding women are enrolled in WIC, the program provides some data to compare our group to. As of Spring 2015, 81% of infants in the program were breastfeeding at 1 week, dropping to 12.8% at 6 months and 1.29% at 11+ months. In contrast, among the women who responded to my survey who had stopped breastfeeding, 20% had done so at more than a year! Even so, 23.5% of the women did not reach their breastfeeding goal, indicating that improvement is still possible.
What was most interesting to me was what and who women found helpful. With few exceptions, when women do seek support, they find it! At the top of the list were:
- Hospital Breastfeeding Support Group: In Muskegon we are so lucky to have a support group that meets twice weekly at the Mercy Health Hackley Campus on the second floor, 2210A. Mondays 5 – 7 PM and Thursdays 11 AM – 1 PM.
- Husband/Partner/Father of the Baby: 80.25% of respondents found their partner to be very or somewhat helpful. Let’s hear it for dads! (Want to learn how to best help your breastfeeding partner? Click here!)
- The Internet/Social Media: Since the survey solicited responses from a Facebook breastfeeding support community, this should come as no surprise.
Great bonding, a healthy baby and confidence as a mother topped the list of benefits. One respondent reminded me of the cost savings of breastfeeding, while others let me know that the confidence and sense of accomplishment they enjoyed extended beyond that of parenthood. Said one mom, “It was the best thing I ever did”!
Now for the bad news. Sadly, childbirth educators were found to be the least helpful. Not to say they were harmful, but 36% found them to be neither helpful nor unhelpful. Next came prenatal care providers, whom 12% of women found somewhat unhelpful or not at all helpful. The third least helpful group was workplace/coworkers. One in 10 women found their workplace to be not at all helpful! This may contribute to the fact that over 1/3 of respondents indicated difficulties with breastfeeding and work.
Nearly 60% of women experienced pain when breastfeeding, followed by cracked nipples (56%). Low milk supply and difficulties latching tied at 48%.
The advice moms gave formed a couple of distinct themes:
- Find a support group: Overwhelmingly, moms who have breastfed want other moms to know that they should connect with others, ask for help when needed and not be afraid to seek professional support. As one mom said, “Find your momma tribe”!
- Don’t give up: Many moms stated that if you can get through the first few weeks, it gets easier. All agreed that it was worth it in the long run.
- Be flexible: 38% of respondents supplemented breastfeeding with formula. Said one mom who’s been there, “Don’t be too discouraged if you have to supplement with formula.”
Thanks to everyone who completed the survey! For more information on breastfeeding resources in the Muskegon area, check out the “resources” section of my website.