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Gentle Cesarean Birth: What it is and how to have one!

July 9, 2018

A gentle cesarean birth incorporates many of the practices that have become the standard for vaginal deliveries into the operating room. When a mother delivers her baby by cesarean she is behind a sterile drape, unable to witness the delivery of her baby, the cord it clamped and cut and the baby is moved to the warmer where he is examined, swaddled and given to the woman’s partner or support person. The baby is then brought to the mother’s head and placed cheek to cheek. Mothers can feel disconnected from their birth experience because they can’t participate in the delivery or hold their baby until they are recovering about one hour after birth. Some mothers experience a sense of loss around a cesarean birth, which is often unplanned and can happen unexpectedly and quickly.

A gentle cesarean birth is done with a clear drape to allow the family to see the baby at the moment of delivery. Delayed cord clamping is done when possible, and EKG leads are positioned on the mother’s back or side so that the baby can be placed skin to skin. The IV is placed in her non-dominant arm to allow easier movement to touch and hold her baby. Often parents elect to have music playing during the delivery. Music can add softness to the operating room environment, which is busy with additional nursing and delivery staff. Numerous studies have shown that implementing gentle cesarean techniques can increase maternal satisfaction, breastfeeding initiation, and bonding.

By making small changes to the cesarean protocol, hospitals and providers can make a huge emotional impact on the mother and her partner. Being able to see the baby being born and touch and hold their infant immediately after birth is a powerful experience. The early skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for the baby too, who can begin the process of initiating the first breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin contact between infant and mother colonizes the baby with commensal beneficial bacteria, a process that typically happens as the baby is delivered through the birth canal. Newborn procedures like antibiotic eye ointment, vitamin K and newborn exam can be delayed until mother and baby have had time to bond.

Some cesareans are planned in advance because of complications during pregnancy, which gives patients time to discuss their plans and expectations for birth with their provider. However, many more cesarean births are decisions that are made during the labor process. We recommend discussing the possibility of cesarean birth with your provider during your pre-natal appointments. This is a great time to have an informed discussion about what happens if a vaginal delivery becomes a cesarean birth. Even in very low risk pregnancies knowing all of the options can remove a lot of fear about what happens if there are complications during the labor and birth process.

Birth has a way of unfolding in its own time and in its own way. One thing you can expect in labor is to expect the unexpected. Our providers support gentle cesarean births when cesarean is the best option for delivery.

You can read more about UCHealth’s implementation of Gentle Cesarean Birth at Poudre Valley and Medical Center of the Rockies here.

About the author

Jennifer Hoover is a maternal-child health specialist, board certified lactation consultant, childbirth educator and writer for The Women’s Clinic of Northern Colorado.

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