I know what you might be thinking: “Gentle and c-section” can’t possibly belong in the same sentence, or maybe you’re thinking that it’s somehow sacreligious for me to even write a post about having a c-section in the first place. I only jump to these assumptions because I once held these beliefs myself. C-sections were always bad, could always be prevented, and you and your baby were going to be messed up if you had one no matter how the process went.
And then I had one.
Yes, after having a natural birth in a hospital and an unassisted home birth, I chose to have my last baby (and if I’m being honest, will choose this for any future babies) via cesarean section. Now I don’t need to justify that decision to you and you certainly don’t have to justify your birth decisions to me. I’m still a huge fan and advocate for the natural birth, but I recognize that there are just certain situations that require the skills of a gifted surgeon, some babies who cannot be born the natural way, and some women, due to various conditions, who would put themselves in an unsafe position by even attempting the alternative. These are the women — the 2% — I’m speaking to.
Regardless of what lead you to this decision, I want to bestow upon you the concept of the gentle c-section. The truth is, you have a lot of say over your birth plan whether you go the natural route or not. You can minimize the risks of a c-section, can take steps to ensure baby has a better start at life, and you shouldn’t feel as though you can’t be an advocate for your birth just because you’re not getting the “ideal.”
What is a Gentle C-Section?
Some people would say that the goal of a gentle c-section is to make the experience of the operating room as close to what it would be in the labor and delivery room. We know that the labor and delivery room experience sucks, so we’re aiming for something higher here.
Here are the differences between the Traditional and gentle c-section:
In a traditional c-section, the baby is quickly delivered, the cord is immediately cut, mom and baby are both exposed to antibiotics, baby is taken by staff, breastfeeding is not immediate, skin-to-skin contact is delayed, and the recovery is longer, slower, and more painful. It’s a very controlled, unnatural, and an intimidating process that could be potentially life threatening to a woman. (Let’s not pretend we don’t have the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world.)
With a gentle c-section, the baby is slowly delivered, the cord cutting is delayed to allow the baby to receive more of its blood, and then he/she stays with the mom throughout the entire procedure with breastfeeding being initiated as soon as possible. The drape might be replaced with a sterile alternative that allows the mother to see the birth, antibiotics can be delayed so that they do not impact the baby (or bypassed altogether), seeding might be initiated to expose the baby to beneficial bacteria, placenta might be saved, vaccinations and vitamin K are deferred (w/ vitamin K only being used if medically indicated), and you can forget the blindness-causing eye ointment for the STD you don’t have and they wouldn’t have encountered anyway because they weren’t born vaginally. The recovery is much shorter as fewer pain medications are used and a binding is worn for abdominal compression to speed recovery and healing.
A gentle c-section seeks to minimize trauma, create a more enjoyable birth experience, and ease some of the tension that goes along with feeling like you have zero control over your birth, your body, and your baby.
How to Create a Gentle C-Section Birth Plan
The most shocking thing to me when I went through this process was discovering that I could have an actual birth plan even though I was having a c-section — it simply looked different. With a natural hospital birth, I had your typical birth plan geared towards minimizing hospital interventions. With my unassisted home birth, I had an emergency protocol, backup on standby, and a plan that focused on birthing in that space. With a c-section, I had a birth plan that focused on lessening medical interventions, maximizing safety for both myself and baby, and fostering the quickest recovery possible. Here’s a quick play-by-play on how to create your own gentle c-section birth plan:
- First, don’t go to a doctor who won’t let you have one. Do your research on good surgeons who are open-minded and respect patient autonomy. If they won’t allow you to make decisions concerning your birth, they aren’t fit to be your doctor. A good surgeon is fully aware of what a gentle c-section is. They might not agree to your entire plan (and sometimes have a good reason not to), but they will hear you out and try to implement what’s safely possible.
- Write down your birth plan just like you would with any other birth. Make sure your doctor and nurse have one on file and take one with you to the hospital on delivery day. Give your partner a chance to read over it and be a part of the experience, so that he can enforce your wishes too.
- Discuss what a typical c-section entails with your doctor. Every doctor/hospital/practice has their own preferred medications and protocol. This allows you to understand what may or may not be necessary and what you can opt out of (or choose to use only if needed).
- You have some control over the medications you get during your c-section, when or if antibiotics are administered, seeding, cord cutting, skin-to-skin, post-birth procedures, and when breastfeeding is initiated. (I only had the spinal and opted out of post-surgery narcotics and pain medications entirely.)
- You can increase your recovery by wearing a compression binder. A binder speeds recovery, prevents hernias, shrinks the abdomen, and provides more abdominal support. (Seriously, without it you will feel like your guts are falling out every time you stand up.)This is not something they will just give you in the hospital. You need to ask for a binder from your doctor and/or the nurse who’s managing your care. For the first few days you can wear the white velcro binder the nurse gives you. For the following few weeks you’ll want something like a Bellefit — which is much more comfortable, provides amazing compression, and is designed for the c-sections. (This is the exact one I used.)
The most important thing to remember about the gentle c-section is that you have the right to have one. Find a good doctor, talk to your doctor, create a birth plan, own your birth experience, and have the healthiest birth and baby you possibly can.