New techniques make C-sections feel more like birth

Apr 24, 2014 at 1:00 p.m. ET

C-sections are a necessity for some moms-to-be, but you don’t have to abandon all of your birth plans if the surgery suite is where you’re headed on delivery day. Hospitals are becoming more open to gentle C-section birth techniques — find out how to incorporate some of these ideas into your birth.

A C-section is major surgery, but it's major surgery with a gift — instead of losing a gallbladder, you're gaining a new baby. Back in "the day," moms would be rendered unconscious for the big event, so you'd go to sleep and have a baby when you woke up. Now, you can often be awake for your child's birth if it's not an emergency, but it's still not the same as an uncomplicated vaginal birth. What does a gentle C-section entail, anyway?

The reality of a C-section

The C-section rate is the highest it's ever been (trending around 33 percent nationwide), and while strides are being taken to lower that rate, moms who find themselves facing an operating room rather than a birthing suite often feel that things can — and should — be different than they have been in the past.

A C-section requires that moms be prepped and draped according to the procedures at their hospital, which helps keep the operating field sterile and cuts down on infection risk. The operating room is kept colder than other rooms in the hospital, and you've had anesthesia administered, have an IV and likely have your arms strapped out perpendicular to your sides. It has been practice to deliver the baby and let Mom and Dad have a quick peek or a nuzzle before cleaning him off and weighing him. The new mom may not even be able to hold her baby for an hour or more.

It's a far cry from a vaginal birth, where hospital staff often places the baby on your chest immediately after birth and encourages breastfeeding as soon as possible. However, birth plans for C-sections are being written so moms can have a more gentle experience during and after their delivery.

Those first moments

Skin-to-skin contact is probably the top request of moms who want a gentle C-section birth. Hospitals are becoming more open to the possibility of placing a newborn on Mom's chest immediately, either holding the baby against her skin or allowing her to hold him herself. Sometimes moms can nurse their new babies right away as well. Having those first moments with direct skin contact improves Baby's heart rate and temperature and is immensely comforting for both.

Jill's first baby was born via emergency C-section, but she had a vastly different experience during her second surgical birth. "I had one C-section where my arms were strapped down (emergency) and one where they were not (planned)," she shares. "I had to wait for over 45 minutes to see my first baby. Sitting in recovery with my first, I was alone and scared and had no clue if my baby was OK or even what was going on. But they laid my second right on me after birth — I'll say second experience was much better for everyone."

Another innovation is tilting a mirror so the mom-to-be has a chance to see her baby born. Even if you don't have a mirror for a vaginal birth, you can totally see your child emerging if you're looking that direction and want to see. This is not the case for a C-section birth because there is a huge drape between you and the view of your belly.

Often, emergency C-sections are just that — emergencies. You probably won't get a lot of input if you are suddenly whisked to the surgical suite. But if you're facing a non-emergent C-section, or a repeat and you're not a candidate for a VBAC, see what the policies are at your hospital. If there are not currently any innovations in place to allow for a more comforting delivery, perhaps your practitioner may be open to letting you experience it. And who knows? You may pave the way for other moms to do the same.

More on labor and birth

Everything you need to know about C-sections
Home birth after cesarean: This mom's success story
How to manage labor pain naturally