Nearly one third of pregnant women deliver via Cesarean sections, making it one of the most common surgeries for women in the U.S. While it is undeniably a surgery, this process is quite different because of what is being removed: a new baby.

What is a “gentle” C-section? (And should I have one?)

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Q: Throughout my pregnancy, I’ve heard a lot of different opinions – both good and bad - about what happens when you deliver your baby via caesarian section (C-section). Very recently I overheard someone talking about a “gentle” C-section. What is it, and how does it differ from a ‘standard’ C-section?

A:  Nearly one third of pregnant women deliver via Cesarean sections, making it one of the most common surgeries for women in the U.S. While it is undeniably a surgery, this process is quite different because of what is being removed: a new baby. 

When it’s not an emergency C-section, there are steps that can be taken to make the environment feel more natural. The philosophy is to try to make the experience in the operating room as similar as possible to the experience you would have in a birthing suite. It’s called a “gentle C-section.”

What can I expect with a gentle C-section?

Although it varies among maternity centers, a gentle C-section may include: 

  • Immediate skin-to-skin contact for mother and baby right in the operating room
  • Low lighting in the operating room except for the area focused on the patient
  • Less draping between you and your belly, and a slower emergence of your baby from the incision.

Here’s why these matter. Getting mom and baby together skin-to-skin has proven benefits, including bonding, earlier breastfeeding success and better vitals for the baby. Low lighting changes the feeling of the operating room, and can help set the tone for the arrival of the new family member.

Less draping, clear draping and possibly no drape at all, offers a better view for you to see your baby emerge, and the reason draping was instituted originally (to keep the operating area separate) is not always necessary. With a C-section, compared to other types of abdominal surgery, the area being operated on isn’t even visible. 

When it’s time for your baby to be born, the surgeons support the baby and allow him or her to emerge from the incision. While the baby may need help clearing his or her lungs, cleaning the baby can wait until after skin-to-skin contact with the mother. We want to get you and your baby together quickly to help your baby transition to life outside the uterus, establish bonding, and set up for a good breastfeeding relationship. 

Let Us Know About Your Birth Requests

We know that when decisions are made for you, it can be difficult and even traumatic for some. We want to strive to make decisions together throughout birth.  There are situations where life-saving action must be taken, but we want to collaborate with you and your family as much as possible. 

Discuss your birth plan (we often call them “birth requests,”) surrounding a vaginal delivery and a Cesarean and discuss your preferences in advance. Even if you don’t anticipate a C-section delivery, have the C-section conversation with your care team. It will allow you to clarify what is important to you as you go through your birth experience. A great time to have this conversation is during your office visit with your OB/GYN or during your hospital tour. Here are some questions you can use to guide your discussion. Please feel free to reach out to us for more resources!

By Donna Patno, DNP, CNM

Donna Patno is a Director of Women’s Services and Patient Care Services for Sentara in Williamsburg. She’s a Certified Nurse Midwife and has a DNP in nursing from Case Western Reserve University.