Let’s Talk About Gentle Cesareans

Last Updated: September 28, 2023
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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Curious about gentle Cesareans? You’re in the right place!

For many moms, a C-section is a far cry from the birth they’d hoped for, but taking steps to have a gentle Cesarean, also known as a family or mother-centered Cesarean, can make for a MUCH more positive experience.

The idea behind a gentle Cesarean is to make the whole experience feel less like an operation and more like a traditional birth. At the end of the day, a Cesarean section is surgery, but there are small changes that can be made to the atmosphere and general perspective of everyone involved that can go a long way in helping mamas feel at peace with this mode of delivery.

In this article we’ll discuss gentle Cesareans, and what you can do if you are interested in applying some of these techniques to your upcoming planned C-section.

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What is a gentle Cesarean?

So, to recap what we established in the introduction, a gentle Cesarean, or gentle C-section, is a way that mothers, with their providers, are intentionally changing their attitude and the general atmosphere surrounding the operation to make it feel more like a birth.

Above all, a gentle Cesarean emphasizes mama as an active participant in the process. The goal is to create an atmosphere that’s calming and even tranquil. This is in contrast to the stark and sterile atmosphere that the OR is more typically known for.

The number one goal of a gentle Cesarean is getting baby to you as quickly as possible after the birth, just like with a vaginal birth. Your healthcare team can take small steps to make it easier for you to hold baby as soon as possible. And everyone involved is aware of making the atmosphere feel more calm and peaceful.

Related: Pack Your C-Section Hospital Bag

How does this differ from more traditional C-sections

During more traditional C-sections, the entire birth experience feels like a sterile operation. Mothers are treated similarly to any other person coming in for abdominal surgery. The piece of excitement about meeting their baby is often missing from the entire process.

What’s more, mom is often a passive participant and may not even be walked through what’s happening as it’s happening. And it’s not uncommon for mama to not see her baby for up to 30 minutes after birth.

In an article about gentle Cesareans from The Bump, a doctor talks about how it was “normal for mama to first see her baby via a picture on her partner’s phone – and how there has to be a better way to humanize this experience.”

Of course, I’m not saying that every hospital’s ‘traditional’ C-section protocol is quite this stark. But for many, it is. And I truly think that raising awareness about the idea of gentle Cesareans, and having more moms inquire and advocate for them during their own C-sections, can bring about widespread change to the standard practice!

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How to have a gentle Cesarean

While gentle Cesareans are becoming more popular, in most cases it’s still something that you need to discuss and request and will not just be “the norm”. You may even have to push and advocate a little, but from what I’m hearing from mamas in the community, as long as you and baby are safe and stable, most facilities are willing and able to comply.

Here are my top tips for making your scheduled C-section feel more like a birth and LESS like a surgery:

  • Request an epidural or spinal block so that you are awake during your C-section and only numb from the nipple line down (this is USUALLY the norm in planned Cesareans, but still worth confirming)
  • Ask about a clear drape so that you can see baby as soon as they enter the world! If clear drapes are not an option, ask that the drape be dropped or pushed to the side as baby is being born – this is often an achievable compromise if clear drapes are not readily available
  • Let the team know you’d like to do skin-to-skin while your incision is closed up instead of waiting to leave the OR. Note that if you are unable to do skin-to-skin for medical reasons, your partner can take your place to do immediate skin-to-skin (we’ll talk more about the benefits of this below)
  • You can still opt for delayed cord clamping if medically safe for baby, and see if your support person can cut the cord. More and more stories about partners cutting the cord during C-section are emerging, and this is definitely a super special moment for partners that echoes a vaginal birth!
  • Ask if newborn care procedures can be delayed to promote a golden hour after birth. After vaginal birth this is possible, and in many cases where mom and baby are stable this can happen after a C-section as well. Baby can get cleaned up and observed while on your chest
  • Ask if music can be played to create a calm atmosphere. This isn’t always possible, but it is certainly worth asking about
  • Talk about having IVs and blood pressure cuffs placed on your non-dominant arm to make holding baby easier after they are born. This is such a simple shift that can really make a huge difference in the ease of interacting with your baby in the first minutes after birth
  • Request as minimal talking as possible to promote a calm and tranquil birth

An important note

Remember these are ALL things you can ask about and discuss with your provider in the weeks before your C-section.

I do want to note that in the event of an emergency or unplanned C-section, some of these preferences can be harder to implement. This is because the number one goal (in every birth!) is mama and baby’s safety.

However, even if you’re having a vaginal birth, I always think it’s a good idea to learn a bit about C-sections and think through what that might look like for you, just in case it’s necessary.

Related: Writing Your Birth Plan: For Vaginal and C-Section Births

What are the benefits of a gentle Cesarean?

A lot of research is emerging surrounding the idea of a gentle Cesarean vs. a more traditional approach, and the good news is that there is virtually no increased risk or issue with the practice.

A 2017 study that compared conventional C-sections to gentle C-sections found that the average operation time was roughly 5 minutes longer during a gentle Cesarean, but the recovery time (time spent in the PACU) was actually around 15 minutes shorter (source).

Additionally, Brigham and Women’s Hospital shares research surrounding the benefits of skin-to-skin care moments after C-section delivery.

Some of the benefits they mention include:

  • Better overall transition for baby
  • Baby’s body temperature stabilizes more quickly
  • Baby’s heart rate is better regulated
  • Increased attachment and parental bonding
  • More successful breastfeeding rates

And the last study I’ll point to is a literature review done in 2014 that looked at the research surrounding immediate or early skin-to-skin contact after a Cesarean.

These researchers found that it may increase breastfeeding initiation, decrease time to the first breastfeeding, reduce formula supplementation in the hospital, and reduce newborn stress, among other benefits.

Could a gentle Cesarean be right for you?

Now that you know what gentle Cesareans are all about and the benefits (when it is safe for you and baby of course!), it’s time for you to bring this conversation to your provider.

The main takeaway I want you to get from this article is that every mama has a voice in their birth, even mamas that are having scheduled C-sections.

And check out our C-section specific birth class!

If a scheduled C-section is on your horizon, I want you to know that you deserve and can benefit from childbirth education specific to C-section birth!

You’ll learn more about this topic and lots of other information that will help you be an informed participant in your birth, who’s prepared and confident for her C-section. Learn more today!

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Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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