How to Have a Family-Centered C-Section


Gina Garippo

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Chinese mother holding sleeping newborn

The most important goal of any delivery is a healthy baby. But if you’re planning a cesarean section (C-section) birth—because of medical complications, a previous C-section, or other reasons—you may be interested in ways to have a more personal birth experience. Thankfully, some obstetricians are becoming open to the idea of a family-centered, or gentle C-section. This approach to C-section delivery increases parent participation, encourages early bonding and breastfeeding, and creates a more relaxed birth environment.

Family-centered C-section deliveries are not routine in the United States, and there are no set guidelines regarding this new approach. However, a family-centered C-section may include the following aspects.

A More Relaxed Environment

Operating rooms where C-sections take place must be sterile environments. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it more relaxed. For example, some parents are allowed to bring their own music to be played during delivery. Your healthcare providers may also be willing to dim the lights, or maintain a quieter operating room by limiting unnecessary conversation.

Ability to Watch the Birth

In a typical cesarean delivery, a curtain is put up to block the view of the surgical site. As a result, the mother doesn’t see her newborn until after delivery. In a family-centered birth, the curtain is lowered once the doctor delivers the baby’s head. This allows the mother and father to view the birth, increasing their satisfaction with the birth experience.

Early Skin-to-Skin Bonding

Babies born by C-section are often immediately whisked away for warming, testing and care while the mother is attended to on the operating table. Sometimes the baby warmer isn’t even located in the operating room. As a result, mothers miss out on connecting with their newborns through early skin-to-skin contact and early breastfeeding.

Numerous studies show that early skin-to-skin contact, which is routine after a vaginal birth, provides a host of benefits to mother and baby. The contact helps calm and warm the baby, improves breastfeeding, and encourages early bonding.

In family-centered C-sections, babies are placed skin-to-skin on their mother’s chest as soon as both mom and baby are clinically stable. Studies show this does not increase complication rates. If it’s not possible to have direct skin-to-skin contact following a C-section, the infant warmer is placed in the operating room in line of sight for the mother.

Understanding the Hurdles

Keep in mind that your obstetrician may be reluctant to change how your C-section is performed, and hospital policies may make it difficult for him or her to make those changes. This is primarily to ensure the health of you and your baby. For example, operating rooms must be kept cold for sterilization, and because of that, your doctor may be concerned that early skin-to-skin contact could be dangerous to your newborn. To perform a safe and healthy family-centered C-section, additional measures may be necessary, such as keeping extra warming equipment in the operating room.

Asking the Right Questions

Before delivery, tell your doctor your wish for a more gentle C-section birth experience with more family involvement. Explain your specific desires and ask if they can be achieved. Even if your doctor and hospital cannot grant all your requests, improving some aspects of your C-section can make the experience that much more positive. Some questions to ask your obstetrician may include:

  • Can the screen be lowered once my baby’s head is out so I can see his or her birth?
  • Can my baby be placed immediately on my chest? If not, how soon can I have skin-to-skin contact and begin nursing?
  • When can my partner hold the baby?
  • Can I have music in the room?
  • Are there any other measures we can take to improve my birth experience?

Keep in mind your obstetrician may have affiliations with more than one hospital. If the hospital you are planning to deliver at is unable to accommodate your requests, do your own research and also ask your doctor about the C-section delivery experience at other hospitals near you where your doctor can work. By working together with your doctor and hospital, you can make your labor and delivery experience as positive and beautiful as possible.

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