The Difference Between Traditional & "Gentle" C-Sections

The birth of your baby can be one of life's most joyful and transformative experiences, but when an emergency C-section is required, mothers can feel left out of the party. Now a new birthing trend is gaining popularity, incorporating the benefits of vaginal birth into the C-section surgery. So what is a gentle C-section? The pioneering technique, also known as a “natural” or “family-centered” C-section, puts the woman first, encouraging her to be an active participant in the pivotal moment of the birth of her child.

Despite the prevalance of C-sections in the U.S., the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) prefer vaginal delivery over cesareans, as "natural" birth has been found to boost mother-child bonding, successful breastfeeding, and overall maternal satisfaction. Gentle c-sections prize early skin-to-skin contact between parent and newborn, as well as parental involvement during the birth itself, both thought to be important parts of vaginal birth — and, what’s more? The natural C-section is thought to be as safe as the traditional surgery! Considering nearly one-third of U.S. women give birth via C-section (approximately 32 percent), this procedure could be an important step forward for both mother and child.

In a traditional Cesarean, the mother is separated from the birth process in several ways — a (usually blue) curtain blocks her view of her pregnant belly, and a spinal block and anesthetic is administered so that she is numb from the waist down. The baby is then delivered by a surgical incision made in the mother's abdomen and uterus. Once the baby is removed it is whisked off to a nurse for an examination, delaying the child’s contact with its mother. If all is said to be okay, the baby is returned to the mother so she may hold it for the first time while the doctor delivers the placenta and stitches everything up.

The gentle-C puts a premium on getting the mother involved with her child much, much sooner. The technique is still fairly new, having been developed in 2008 by doctors at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London. The procedure gained attention when the International journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, BJOG, published a study that year called “The Natural Caesarean: A woman-centered technique”, and interest has been steadily growing ever since. The Gentle C is still a surgical procedure and does require certain sterile techniques, however, the experience has been modified by a few small but important changes to make it more woman and family-friendly. With gentle c-sections as many aspects of the mother’s birthing plan as the surgery safely allows for are followed in the operating room. This can include soft lighting, relaxing music, and a less hurried pace of operation. During the birth a clear plastic drape is used, or the partition is lowered so the mother can watch the birth of her child, instead of hiding it. One of the mother's arms is left free of tubes and the chest cleared of monitors so that the baby can snuggle or breastfeed within minutes of being born.

This immediate skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for both the baby and the mother as it helps foster closeness and regulate the baby’s temperature, heart rate, and respiration. Though the technique has only been around for a few years and more studies are required, outcomes have been incredibly positive. The innovative technique has been found to provide “more maternal satisfaction and has better bonding and breastfeeding outcomes,” reports CNN. Though it is still not a replacement for vaginal birth, the gentle C improves the process for those in need of a Cesarean and can make lasting positive memories.