More doctors are practicing this more intimate form of Cesarean section than ever, and the health benefits to mom and child are reason enough to celebrate the more natural method.
While most women—about 97 percent, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)—prefer a vaginal birth, the truth is that isn't always possible. Whether it's because of complications or health issues, sometimes a Cesarean section, or C-section, is necessary. In fact, 32 percent of all births happen that way, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And while that might not have been your "birthing plan," Candace Howe, M.D., an ob-gyn in Newport Beach, California, says there's absolutely no shame in having to deliver the baby this way.
"As an ob-gyn who's done thousands of deliveries, I feel like women who have C-sections don't get the same credit, maybe culturally, as the women who have vaginal deliveries," says Dr. Howe. "Many women feel like it's a failure, but truthfully that's not the case at all. It's just another way to deliver, and if it's the way that's necessary to keep everyone healthy and safe, it's an honorable method. Either way, you're bringing life into the world."
That's why a little-known birthing method referred to as gentle, or natural, C-sections, is on the rise, reports CNN. More and more doctors and nurses are adopting the technique and adjusting their care so that childbirth by C-section is not only more comfortable for the mom, but also offers up extra health benefits to the baby. (Uh, did you know that President Trump's health hare bill considers C-sections to be pre-existing conditions?)
How can a C-section be "gentle," you ask? It is surgery after all. Well, here's what you need to know about the delivery method, whether you're expecting or not.
What is a gentle C-section?
So, gentle C-sections aren't technically new. Dr. Howe estimates that doctors have been following the method for about three to five years now, and moms are beginning to expect it as their standard treatment of care if they need to have a C-section. "It's the way I was trained to perform a C-section, and it's been the way to deliver cesareans since at least 2012," she says. "Someone's just put an official term to the trend."
To compare the procedures, a traditional C-section begins with the mother being numbed with a spinal block and anesthetic so that she doesn't feel anything—but is still alert—while the abdomen and womb are cut open to remove the baby. A curtain is placed above the woman's belly to keep the blood, incision, and baby out of sight. Once the baby is removed, he or she is whisked away to be checked and cleaned up while doctors work to stop the mother's bleeding and stitch up the incision. (Related: This Mom Gave Birth to an 11-Pound Baby At Home Without an Epidural)
Gentle C-sections, however, are designed to feel more intimate. They're performed in a medically similar manner but with small tweaks. Dr. Howe says see-through curtains are an option for moms who want to witness the whole process, or at least see the baby take its first breath. Music of the mother's choosing can be played to help keep her calm (Dr. Howe says one patient requested Disney tunes). Soft, ambient light can be used instead of the harsh lighting that's usually in hospitals or operating rooms. And, as long as the safety of both mom and baby isn't compromised, things that may typically happen during vaginal deliveries—skin-to-skin contact with the baby before cleanup, delayed cord clamping, and immediate breastfeeding—can all be accommodated in the operating room after a gentle C-section.
Gentle C-sections are becoming more popular.
While these adjustments may not seem like a big deal to someone who hasn't experienced a C-section, those who have—including Dr. Howe herself—say they can help create a much more positive experience with childbirth. "Honestly, moms are so nervous until the baby is out, and yet they need to focus on staying calm because this is a surgery," says Dr. Howe. "Small things like this can make a woman feel like she's being heard and that her requests matter."
Plus, with women's rights being a hot-button issue currently, Dr. Howe says women are speaking up for themselves more than ever, advocating to have the joyful childbirth experience. "Women are empowered, and they know now that they don't have to have a sterile procedure where nobody is listening to them, or they have no idea where their baby is," she says. "This is not the way it has to be."
And of course, there are the health benefits you gain from a more positive childbirth experience, such as a potentially lower risk of postpartum depression—something some women may be more biologically susceptible to. "If a mom has a calm, comfortable experience with the C-section, and they immediately begin recovery with baby on mom's chest, that's probably going to help minimize or reduce one factor that can lead to stress and postpartum depression," says Dr. Howe. "There needs to be more research on the subject, but it's a valid theory for people to consider."
As far as the delivery itself, science shows that there are health benefits to these more natural experiences. Delayed cord clamping, for example, keeps blood flowing from the placenta to baby for a few additional minutes, until the cord stops pulsing, which can help protect baby's brain, says Dr. Howe. It can also help prevent babies from becoming anemic by the time they get their blood checked around the four-month mark, she says, which creates a healthy domino effect. A less-anemic baby means they're going to be less fatigued, which means they can latch better for breastfeeding due to increased energy, and that can stimulate better milk production for the mom, resulting in better sleep for her baby.
Here's what you should consider.
Vaginal births are still recommended over C-sections, according to ACOG, as C-sections can have more complications like excessive bleeding, infection, or a ruptured uterus. (Did you know that exercising during pregnancy can reduce the risk for pre-term birth and the need for a C-section?) If gentle C-sections become the standard of care for these surgeries, as Dr. Howe predicts they will, she's hopeful that all births, no matter how they happen, are viewed at as successful and something to be celebrated.