Despite being a surgical procedure, Kirsten Cole’s second cesarean section, in April 2018, had a low-intervention, natural feel. When preparing for the birth of her second son, Connor, Cole opted for a “gentle C-section.” This patient-centered experience, which has been offered at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital for about a year, strives to make birthing in the operating room (OR) as similar as possible to a traditional birth in the labor and delivery room.
A distinct feature of the gentle C-section at Sentara Martha Jefferson is the “clear drape,” a device that allows the mother and her partner to watch as the baby is born. Unlike the opaque blue surgical drapes used in other procedures, the clear drape has a sterile, clear portion through which the mother can observe her baby’s arrival, facilitating a “natural cesarean delivery.” To give the mother and birth partner a view of the baby’s birth, the surgeon simply lets down the colored section of the drape seconds before pulling the baby out of the uterus. The colored section of the drape is then raised again before the surgeon completes the procedure.
“Seeing our little man through the clear drape immediately after he was born made me feel like I gave birth naturally, rather than just having undergone surgery,” says Cole, 34, of Barboursville. “They held him up as they pulled him out so that I could see him. It was emotional, and I cried—but it was a happy cry.”
The experience was drastically different from the birth of her first son, Cooper, two and a half years ago. He was born via an unplanned, unscheduled C-section when Cole was determined to have pre-eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome—conditions that can be dangerous to both mother and baby. In the moments after birth, Cole was “out of sorts” from the medications she was on, and Cooper had to be whisked away to a special care nursery due to a low blood sugar level.
“Overall, it was a pretty traumatic experience for our whole family,” Cole recalls.
Cole’s second pregnancy went well, and being able to plan for the C-section put her at ease. When OB-GYN Kelly Owens, MD, offered the option of a gentle C-section, Cole was excited to try it. In addition to the joy of watching Connor’s birth through the clear drape, the baby was placed on her chest immediately after birth to provide “skin-to-skin” time, helping her to begin bonding with Connor. In addition to enhancing mother-baby bonding, this contact helps to promote success in breastfeeding, which can be initiated during these precious moments right after birth.
“Connor’s delivery was perfect,” Cole says. “The gentle C-section experience was calm and memorable. It was a much less stressful event than my first C-section, and this time I was able to enjoy the experience of meeting our little one.”
The gentle C-section approach was also enjoyable for Cole’s husband, Jeremy.
“For Jeremy, the gentle C-section was definitely an awesome experience, and he felt more connected to Connor’s birth,” Cole says. “He was able to see Connor’s head come out, which was really memorable.”
Creating a Joyful Experience
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 31 percent of deliveries are done by cesarean, making it the most common surgery performed at U.S. hospitals. Vaginal birth is still safer, and the preferred method, but there are numerous reasons a cesarean section may be necessary—from breech presentation or fetal distress to complications for the mother. For women who need or choose to undergo C-section, Sentara Martha Jefferson does everything possible to enhance the experience and help parents feel connected to their baby in the first moments of life outside the womb.
“A lot of women feel that if they have a C-section, they’re missing out on that emotional feeling that comes from watching their baby being born, as they would be able to do with a vaginal birth,” says Tina Connell, BSN, RNC-OB, clinical nurse manager for the hospital’s Obstetrics Unit. “Some women who have a C-section feel let down by the experience, and may feel like they weren’t able to bond with their baby—which may actually contribute to the onset of postpartum depression. For those who wish to have the experience of a vaginal birth, we’re trying to move more of those elements into the OR. We hope the use of the clear drape and skin-to-skin contact will enhance the delivery experience for our C-section patients and increase bonding between mother and baby.”
While the clear drapes and skin-to-skin time are important features of the gentle C-section, other elements can be employed to help make the approach a positive experience for patients and their partners. For instance, soft lighting and calming music (according to the patient’s choice) in the OR can help to create a relaxed atmosphere. Additionally, the OB-GYN can delay umbilical cord clamping, which may reduce the risk for newborn anemia by boosting hemoglobin levels at birth. Of course, mothers and birth partners can opt for any or all of these options, as they see fit—there’s no one right way to do a gentle C-section.
Putting Moms and Newborns First
Any patient having a C-section—whether planned ahead of time or made necessary due to a sudden complication—should consult with her doctor, if she may be interested in the gentle C-section option. Safety is always the first consideration, but the obstetrics team does everything possible to make the birth experience pleasant and memorable.
Dr. Owens says the gentle C-section also ties in well with Sentara Martha Jefferson’s Caring Tradition and can give mothers a sense of well-being by connecting them with their newborns immediately following birth.
“Sentara Martha Jefferson is very patient- and mom-friendly,” says Dr. Owens. “We do everything possible to accommodate our patients’ wishes for their birth experiences. The gentle C-section approach helps make a surgical procedure a little less stressful and a little less clinical, so that the mother and her birth partner can feel more relaxed and enjoy bonding time with their newborn.”