What Is A Gentle C-Section, And How Do I Plan One?

by Sarah Cottrell
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When I went into labor with my second child, I was mentally prepared for the rigors of natural childbirth since I had gone through a drug-free 21-hour and 33-minute marathon of WTF-did-I-sign-up-for just a few short years before. I knew it was going to be incredibly difficult and emotionally taxing, but I was willing to do it and couldn’t wait to meet my new baby.

But then something happened. My unborn child’s head got stuck under my pubic bone because his body was not descending properly. I pushed and pushed and refused to give up until the doctors said that an emergency C-Section was necessary as my child’s vital signs were dropping.

I was fucking scared, to say the least. But in the end, about an hour later, I was holding my beautiful child and crying tears of loopy drug-filled joy. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had just joined the universal tribe of badass C-Section mamas.

When my husband and I found out that we were (surprise!) expecting a third child, we looked into having a VBAC, but after careful planning and some dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s, we learned that I am not a good candidate because of the manner in which my last C-section was closed, and that is when we were introduced to the concept of gentle cesarean births.

What the hell am I talking about?

Family-centered cesarean, or gentle C-sections, have not been around in the United States for very long. The cost of a gentle C-section is not higher than a standard one; it is just that there has been little research done on the outcomes of this procedure. According to NPR’s Morning Edition, “Without hard scientific data on outcomes and other concerns like infection control, many hospitals may be wary of changing their routines.”

The biggest difference between a standard C-section and a gentle C-section is a focus on bringing as natural an experience as possible to the surgical operation. Instead of a giant opaque plastic sheet that separates the mom from the sterile field in which the surgeons are doing their work, a clear plastic sheet is hung so that mom can watch her child being born.

Other differences include allowing the other parent or birth partner to record the procedure, and when the baby is delivered, they are immediately handed to mom to receive skin-to-skin contact while the umbilical cord is still attached.

And for some women who request it, a special medical-grade cloth can be inserted into the vagina an hour or so before surgery in order to soak up important microbes baby would otherwise miss. This cloth is then extracted from the mother and used to gently wipe the nostrils and inside of the baby’s mouth, thus making sure that the baby is getting the necessary microbes to boost a healthy gut for optimal health.

Gentle C-sections may not be offered or permitted at all hospitals, but for my family, it is worth starting that conversation with my OB-GYN to explore the idea of creating as natural an experience as possible given the circumstances of our birth plan.

If you would like to plan a gentle caesarean birth, here are some questions to consider bringing up for discussion with your doctor:

1. What does it look like to watch a C-section happen? How much of the cutting will you actually witness?

2. Can your baby be immediately placed on your chest for skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding moments after birth?

3. Can your birth partner be present as emotional support and to possibly capture the big moment on video?

4. Will the doctors be willing to use your vaginal microbes to wipe your child’s face and mouth with beneficial microbes that can help boost his or her immune system?

5. Can your placenta be saved in order to be prepared for consumption? (If that is something you desire, of course.)

6. Could the doctors and nurses perform all the newborn screening tests while the baby is skin-to-skin with mom?

7. Could the medical team ensure that all post-op medications be safe for breastfeeding?

While this option may not be a great fit for every mom out there, it is a great idea for those who yearn for a natural birth, but cannot, for one reason or another, birth a child naturally, as is the case for me. But no matter what happens, as long as mother and baby are safe, then natural birth or not, we’ll call that a win.