When a mother imagines her child’s birth, she envisions laboring, pushing, sweating and finally having her newborn placed on her chest. Cesarean sections are rarely part of that dream, and leave many mothers feeling like they missed out on a true birth experience.
Studies show skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth improves breastfeeding rates, infant cardiorespiratory stability and blood glucose levels. Most mothers who deliver vaginally get that skin-to-skin contact, but mothers who have C-sections may not be able to touch, or even see, their newborns for some time — the infants are often whisked off to a pediatrician before meeting mom.
Obstetricians at UF Health North have taken a different approach by offering gentle C-sections. Brent Seibel, MD, medical director of UF Health Women’s Specialists – North, says gentle C-sections are procedurally the same as traditional C-sections, but they focus on the patient’s experience.
“We try to make it as similar as possible to a vaginal birth experience while maintaining a safe and sterile environment,” Seibel said. “We have a clear C-section drape, so mothers can visualize as much of the delivery as they are comfortable with. Traditional C-sections involve strapping down the arms to arm boards and putting up a big blue drape, which creates a barrier between patient and surgeon. We would do the C-section without much acknowledgment for mom, focusing on getting the baby out and off to the pediatrician. Now we emphasize reuniting mother and baby as soon as possible.”
During gentle C-sections, mothers are alert and receive enough regional anesthesia to feel no pain from the procedure. While partners have always been welcome in the operating room, they can now bring a doula. Moms can even play music. After delivery, the baby is immediately placed on the mother’s chest unless medical intervention is needed.
“Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding in the room before the surgery is even completed is a goal as well,” Seibel said.
Heather Fails, a UF Health labor and delivery nurse, experienced these differences firsthand. Her 3-year-old son, Rowan, was delivered via traditional C-section. Her daughter, Winry, was born Dec. 12, 2017, at UF Health North using gentle C-section techniques.
“As I was going in for a C-section, Dr. Seibel asked me if I’d be interested in the new procedure. I said, ‘absolutely.’”
Heather couldn’t see her incision, but she could see Winry. “Dr. Seibel held her up to the clear plastic for me the moment she was born so I could see her, just like a vaginal birth mom would. I didn’t get to see my son until he was already a few minutes old. With my son, I don’t remember a lot of it. But with her, it’s a lasting memory because I saw it.”
As a mother who has had both types of C-sections, Fails said the gentle C-section provided her a birth experience she can treasure. “I definitely felt more involved in the whole process instead of it being something that happened to me,” she said.
A study at Charité University Hospital in Berlin, Germany, found that when comparing gentle and traditional C-sections, there was no increase in complications for mother or child. The study also showed mothers who underwent gentle C-sections had improved breastfeeding rates and overall better experiences.
“We’re focusing on labor and delivery experiences that are patient-centered — that’s our philosophy,” Seibel said. “We’re going to give you the same respect and as many opportunities offered during a vaginal delivery that we safely can in an operating room setting. We respect the patient’s wishes in the OR, just as we would try to fulfill her birth plan during a vaginal delivery.”
Visit North.UFHealthJax.org/ob-gyn for more information or to make an appointment at UF Health Women’s Specialists – North.