Terms Explained: what’s a gentle cesarean?

April is c-section awareness month! If your friend who is anticipating a cesarean birth told you they are having a “gentle cesarean,” or if you’ve never heard that term before, here’s your quick guide to what that means.

Cesarean deliveries, commonly known as c-sections, are deliveries where baby is born through an incision in the abdomen and uterus instead of through the birth canal. They are the most commonly performed surgery in the United States and worldwide. So it’s no wonder that many parents – and some medical care providers – are trying to find ways to make a surgical environment feel a little more welcoming and hygge for brand new babies and their families.

This is where “gentle cesareans” – also called “natural c-sections” or “family-centered births” – come in. The idea behind gentle cesareans is that medical providers implement many of the traditions or practices that are comparatively easy to implement in a vaginal birth, into a cesarean birth. These might include:

  • not requiring parents to wear hospital gowns
  • not restraining the parent’s arms during delivery
  • using an epidurals or spinal blocks instead of general anesthesia, so that parents are awake during delivery
  • deliberately discussing other common drugs given during c-sections, as some may make parents woozy or unable to focus during the birth
  • placing monitors or IVs on parents’ toes or nondominant hands so that the parent can hold the baby
  • providing “mood” lighting and relative quiet in the operating room, rather than the typical beeps, conversations, and pages (some hospitals will even play music if the parents provide it!)
  • using clear drapes or lowering the drapes just before delivery so parents can see the baby quickly after or during the birth (depending on how comfortable parents are seeing the surgical site!)
  • taking the baby out of the uterus slowly, which helps the baby empty their lungs of liquid; this is also called “walking the baby out” (the squeezing that this achieves happens naturally in a vaginal birth but takes a deliberate effort on the part of the care provider in a belly birth)
  • delaying cord clamping, just as one might do for a vaginal birth
  • ensuring that parents cut the umbilical cord rather than medical personnel
  • ensuring early skin-to-skin contact, which can help baby monitor their temperature and improve chances of breastfeeding success (this can be done by the parent giving birth, if they are awake, or by another family member)
  • initiating breastfeeding in the operating room rather than waiting for transfer to a recovery room (this facilitates quicker initiation, which is recommended by groups such as the World Health Organization)
  • doing a vaginal swab to provide more microbes for the baby. This is also called “vaginal seeding,” and it’s become very popular, but it should be noted that studies on it have been small (though they have shown positive effects).

Research indicates that implementing interventions such as these, that focus on the family and allow for a more welcoming or warm transition, improve parents’ views of birth experiences. For this reason, many of these practices are already recommended by ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), but sometimes recommendations take years or decades to emerge into practice.

If you are looking for more information about c-sections, check out ACOG’s FAQ page on cesareans here. If you or a loved one are planning a gentle cesarean, talk to your medical provider about their norms and your desires. If you’d like some help navigating those conversations or planning your cesarean birth, contact a doula!

I’d love to support you during your gentle c-section, so if you’re in my area, let me know! If you don’t live near me, I’d love to support you in envisioning and planning your gentle c-section through virtual prenatal appointments. Get in touch with me for more information.

Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

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