In the United States, roughly one in three babies are born via Cesarean-section each year. In many cases, the operation is performed as a last resort either because an emergency situation developed during labor or because the labor simply didn't progress naturally to the point of delivery. Though C-sections may be necessary, the sterile conditions of the operation leave many new moms feeling disconnected with their baby's birth and sad that their pregnancies ended with surgery. But a new technique, called a gentle C-section, may change the way this surgery is performed, giving moms and their new babies the opportunity to experience a delivery that emphasizes the natural over the surgical when possible.
When a woman has a C-section, the procedure is treated just like any other operation. She is wheeled into a surgical room where a sterile sheet is raised to block her view of the surgery. Her arms are strapped down to prevent injury, and her chest is riddled with EKG sensors to monitor her heart during the operation. Once the baby is removed from her body, the new mom may be given a quick glimpse before her baby is whisked off to undergo testing and postpartum care.
It's no wonder some new moms who delivered their babies via C-section are left feeling empty and depressed about the procedure. But some doctors are re-imagining the way a C-section takes place to make the experience more like a birth and less like an operation.
"To be very clear, a gentle C-section is still surgery," Dr. David Garfinkel, attending physician at Morristown Medical Center told FitPregnancy. "As a physician, I am not being more gentle as I do the surgery."
The difference is that during a gentle C-section, mothers have more opportunities to see and be involved in their baby's birth. Before the baby is born, the opaque sheet is replaced with a clear sheet and the mother is propped up at an angle so she can view the birth. Those EKG strips? They are moved to her side instead of her chest so that she and her baby can have skin-to-skin contact while the doctors finish the procedure. Also, her arms are not strapped down and her IV line is inserted into her non-dominant arm so that she can cradle her baby on her chest.
At some hospitals, such as the Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, a gentle C-section also means slowing down the actual surgery so that any fluid in the baby's lungs can be naturally squeezed out during the procedure. And there is no rush to cut the umbilical cord or whisk the baby away before she has had a chance to breastfeed.
These small, simple changes can make a big difference to moms and their babies. The overall objective isn't to increase the number of C-sections. Experts still agree that vaginal delivery, when possible, is best for both mom and baby. But a gentle C-section can help remove the stigma of failure surrounding C-sections while giving moms and their new babies a more positive delivery experience.