You’ve spent months planning for a positive birth and it all goes out the window when you find out it’s not going to happen.
A c-section might be necessary for the safety of you and your baby. C-section birth is still a birth. It’s the day you meet your baby, and how it happens is important.
A gentle c-section plan can allow you and your baby to meet in the most positive way possible. Even if a genuine emergency c-section is needed, your preferences for gentle birth choices can still be respected as far as possible.
Let’s explore gentle c-section and how to have one.
What is a gentle c-section?
First, what is a gentle c-section?
There’s no hard and fast definition of what’s included in a gentle cesarean. It will depend purely on what matters to each woman and her family at the birth of their baby.
You can find a description of the process and why it’s important in our article Gentle C-Sections Are Better For Mothers and Babies.
No matter what options are included, all gentle c-sections should:
- Respect the physiology of childbirth
- Value connections between family members
- Feel less like standard surgery and more like a special moment
- Give the parents some control in decision-making.
A gentle c-section birth plan
Around the world, around 1 in 5 women will have their babies via cesarean. C-section rates are more like 1 in 3 in Australia and the United States.
It makes sense to prepare a c-section birth plan just in case.
Before you get attached to your vision of a family-centered cesarean birth, it’s a good idea to find out exactly what’s possible at your birthplace.
Your doctor or midwife can explain what they can offer in the event of a scheduled or unplanned c-section.
Some obstetricians are more flexible than others, so if yours isn’t willing to work with your requests, you might need to research other options.
Here are the 11 most common requests made by women planning a gentle c-section:
#1: Calm atmosphere
Go ahead and put together that birth playlist! Rather than lying there in silence or listening to medical staff’s small talk, you can choose to have relaxing or inspiring music playing in the operating theatre. This will help you feel more comfortable and relaxed.
In a gentle c-section, the staff should be focused on you and how you feel throughout the experience. This can include keeping the room quiet, playing your music, and using only positive words to explain what is happening.
#2: Be awake and comfortable
Sometimes an emergency c-section requires general anesthesia that puts you to sleep during the surgery.
However, for a scheduled or non-emergency c-section, you should have the choice of an epidural or spinal block. This medicine numbs the lower half of your body so you are awake for the surgery but feel no pain.
If you’re anxious or agitated, you might be given other medication that can make you feel groggy and less able to remember things afterward. You can let the anesthesiologist know you would prefer to stay alert and involved.
It’s normal to feel jittery or nauseous in the operating room. To remedy this, instead of medications, peppermint essential oil on a cotton pad near your face will often do the trick.
#3: Birth partner is included
Partners play an important role in supporting the mother during childbirth. When the birth is a cesarean, some partners can feel overwhelmed and unsure of how they can be useful.
In a gentle c-section, the partner is encouraged to play an active role and to be involved in valuable ways.
Your partner can:
- Remind the nurse of your preferences for atmosphere, music, etc.
- Sit by your head to be a reassuring voice in your ear
- Watch the baby being born and tell you what’s happening next
- Announce baby’s sex if it’s a surprise
- Take photos
- Help you have skin to skin with the baby to enhance bonding
- Accompany baby for any procedures or tests
- Tell you how amazing you are.
#4: Doula support
A doula is a valuable part of your support team, no matter how the birth plays out.
If you hired a doula to provide comfort measures during a vaginal birth, it might be hard to re-imagine how she’ll help during a c-section.
Some hospitals limit the number of people allowed into the operating room, so your doula might be with you before and after, but possibly not during, the birth.
However, you might be able to negotiate having your doula present for a gentle cesarean, to provide support to both parents.
If a birth changes suddenly from labor to cesarean, your doula can keep things calm while the staff rushes into action. She can explain what is happening, prepare you and your partner for what comes next, and communicate your preferences to the medical team.
A doula can usually meet you in your recovery room to take photos and support you for your first breastfeed.
In the days and weeks following birth, she provides encouragement and support as you heal from surgery.
#5: Slow it down
If there is no medical reason for rushing the birth, the obstetrician can slow down the operation and give you a chance to have the full experience of your baby’s birth.
The vaginal birth process helps to prepare a baby for life outside the womb. For example, the amniotic fluid protecting your baby’s lungs in the womb is squeezed out during vaginal birth. This helps your baby to breathe easily once in the outside world.
During a traditional c-section, the baby is lifted quickly out of the uterus, with no time for clearing of the lungs. Some babies can encounter breathing problems as a result..
During a gentle c-section, your baby is slowly removed from the uterus through a low abdominal incision. Once the head is out, the surgeon might wait a few minutes before letting the baby’s body begin to emerge. This extra time spent in the uterus can help the lungs to be cleared.
#6: See the baby
Traditional cesareans are carried out behind surgical drapes, similar to a curtain, arranged between the mother’s head and body. When the woman is flat on her back, she’s unable to see her baby until he or she is placed in her arms.
In a gentle cesarean, the drape can be lowered to allow you to see your baby being born. The incision is hidden from view, but you can see your baby being lifted from your uterus. Some hospitals even provide a clear drape to maintain the sterile field while allowing you to watch.
In a gentle c-section, this attention to detail allows parents to feel more involved in the process.
#7: Skin to skin
Immediate skin-to-skin contact is considered to be the best practice for cesarean births, but that doesn’t mean it always happens.
When possible, skin-to-skin contact between the baby and a parent should happen before any tests are done on the baby.
In a gentle c-section, the baby is lifted out and immediately placed on your chest, face to face, allowing you to begin the bonding process that will continue the rest of your lives.
Nurses in the US have come up with a simple invention to improve the rates of immediate skin to skin after c-section.
Seeing, touching, smelling, and hearing the baby in the first minutes after birth is an important beginning of the parent-child connection.
As well as helping with bonding, immediate skin-to-skin contact has been found to regulate the baby’s body temperature, and increase the likelihood of breastfeeding.
Studies also show less stress and higher satisfaction for mothers who experience skin-to-skin contact after c-sections.
To make skin-to-skin contact as comfortable as possible, you can request that monitors and IVs be placed so they don’t get in the way as you hold your baby.
#8: Delayed cord clamping
Delayed cord clamping has been proved to offer a baby significant health benefits. It’s become the new normal for vaginal births but the practice isn’t so common for c-sections.
Delayed clamping means after the baby has been born, the doctor waits for 3-5 minutes before clamping, then cutting, the umbilical cord. This allows extra placental blood to flow to the baby.
In a gentle c-section, parents’ wishes are respected, and healthcare providers slow things down to honor the physiological processes of birth.
Delayed cord clamping can be included in your plan but your medical team might still require a last-minute reminder.
#9: Placenta options
The third stage of labor in a vaginal birth is the release of the placenta.
Families sometimes forget that placenta delivery is also part of surgical birth. As long as there’s no medical reason why your placenta needs to be sent away for testing, it can be released to you.
If you’re planning on placenta encapsulation, this can still be part of your plan after a gentle c-section. Your nurse can keep the placenta on ice for your partner to bring home.
If you didn’t plan on encapsulation, it’s still nice to be given the chance to see this incredible organ your body made to keep your baby nourished in the womb.
You can request a quick look before it’s whisked away, or ask a support person to take a photo.
If you’re planning to breastfeed, part of the gentle c-section plan includes a chance to initiate feeding within the first hour of your baby’s life.
Bringing baby to the breast as soon as possible increases your chances of a successful breastfeeding relationship. It’s considered to be an important part of postnatal care.
Your team can help with gentle physical support and encouragement to start breastfeeding while you are still in the operating room, or shortly after in recovery.
#11: More together time
Often during a c-section the baby is taken directly to the warmer, for assessment. This initial separation can be for an extended time if the baby needs extra care from a pediatrician or NICU team.
A gentle cesarean puts a high priority on keeping mother and baby together when possible. Routine procedures can be done as the baby lies in a parent’s arms. Baby and mother can be kept in the same room until they’re ready to move to recovery.
This extra contact regulates baby’s heart rate and temperature and strengthens the family bond. It’s a great experience for birth partners, too, as they can benefit from skin to skin with baby and provide extra reassurance and support for the mother.
Mothers who have done it
There have been several stories in the news about families who have had gentle cesareans.
In this article from 2007 – Born Safely By Caesarean Into His Mothers Hands – a new mother was given the opportunity to lift her own baby up to her chest during a surgical birth. The look on her face is very different from what you would normally see in photos of cesarean births.
Let’s give more parents that kind of experience.
The more we talk about gentle c-sections and share these ideas, the more demand there will be for this to be a reality for all women.
It also means obstetricians will need to become more flexible when it’s safe to do so. Identify the elements of a gentle c-section that most appeal to you, then speak to your medical team and find out which of these options are possible in your hospital.