During a gentle C-section, parents have the opportunity to experience the same level of intimacy with their baby that they may have had during a vaginal birth. And because breastfeeding is encouraged within the first hour of birth, gentle C-section and baby gut health go hand-in-hand.
Why opt for a gentle C-section birth?
You may know you are having a C-section birth. Or maybe C-section is your plan B. Either way, there are benefits to considering a gentle C-section birth.
In 2017, a study by Dutch researchers looked at the difference between conventional and natural C-section birth . They found:
- In moms, no difference in infection rate at the surgical site.
- In babies, an association between gentle C-section and a reduced risk of infection or NICU care.
What this means is that a natural or gentle C-section can benefit your baby by keeping them healthy.
There are benefits for the parents too.
During a C-section birth, mothers may feel physically and emotionally disempowered . Opening lines of communication between a mother and her birth team during a gentle C-section makes a mom an active participant in her baby’s birth.
This subtle difference isn’t to be underestimated.
As it turns out, the care a mother receives during delivery - along with her own sense of agency - can impact her mental health and the relationship she has with her baby .
What is a gentle C-section birth?
During a gentle C-section, you have a more active role in your baby’s birth.
For example, mothers are encouraged to bond with their baby immediately after birth through skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin contact is understood to mean skin on skin contact between a mom and her baby at the moment of birth, undisturbed for at least an hour or until her baby has breastfed.
This type of immediate contact helps a mom to form a responsive relationship with her baby, making it easier to pick up on her baby’s cues. It also reduces a baby’s stress, leading to overall better health outcomes.
Breastfeeding during skin-to-skin contact has its own benefits. For example, it can mean a longer duration of exclusive breastfeeding for a baby.
As we explored in our Gut-Friendly Birth Plan, without skin-to-skin contact after birth, a mom may see an impact on her breastfeeding relationship with her baby for up to six months.
Jeannette Crenshaw, professor in School of Nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, points out that this is possible even if a mother is reunited with her baby within two hours of birth or if her baby has skin-to-skin contact with another parent .
Benefits of gentle C-section for baby gut health
Other benefits come from early skin-to-skin contact during a gentle C-section birth, like temperature and heart rate regulation.
What’s more, breastfeeding may also get off to a more successful start .
This is especially noteworthy since a C-section birth can impact a baby’s gut health.
During a C-section birth, babies are not exposed to their mother’s microbiome in the same way as babies born vaginally. Instead, their first exposure of microbes comes from skin and the hospital environment . C-section delivery also requires the use of antibiotics. The downstream effect of these factors is potentially less beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and Bacteroides –.
But a gentle C-section birth encourages breastfeeding.
This is good news for a baby’s gut health since breastfeeding plays a pivotal role in the restoration of a baby’s microbiome after C-section delivery.
In 2021, researchers at The Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire published research showing that the longer a baby born by C-section is breastfed, the higher their microbial diversity at 12 months old . Researchers noted that breastfeeding may restore the gut microbiome of babies born by C-section to resemble the microbiome of vaginally-born, breastfed babies at 6 weeks and 24 weeks.
Indeed, how a baby is fed may have a greater impact on a baby’s gut health than how a baby is born.
8 Tiny Health’s suggestions if you are having a gentle C-section birth
1. Pain relief. In rare situations, an emergency C-section may mean that you need general anesthesia. But in most cases, you can request a regional anesthetic like an epidural or spinal block. Regional anesthesia reduces pain at the surgical site but allows you to stay awake for the surgery.
2. Natural stress relief. You might be given stress relief medication that can make you feel sleepy. You may want to let the anesthesiologist know you would prefer to stay alert and involved. Try natural alternatives to extra medication like meditating, listening to music, or getting a massage.
3. Calm atmosphere. Choose your own relaxing or inspiring music to play in the background.
4. Ask for a peek-a-boo drape. You can ask to see your baby being born through a clear drape or by lowering the drape, as shown in the photo above. This detail will allow you to feel more involved in the process.
5. Breastfeed within the first hour, or if possible while still in the surgery room. Beginning right away can support a successful breastfeeding relationship with your baby. Ask your birth team about lactation services for mothers who wish to breastfeed and pump while in the hospital.
6. Immediate skin-to-skin. Mom’s gown can be lowered and your baby can be placed on your chest while you’re being sutured. If you're not in a position to have your baby placed on your chest, your partner can hold your baby instead for immediate skin-to-skin contact.
7. Delay exams for bonding. Yes, you can request to delay exams and procedures, like weighing your baby, until both parents are ready.
8. Consider a vaginal swab. Ask about a vaginal swab, which involves your doctor or midwife collecting a swab of the microbes from your vagina. You can find out more about vaginal seeding here. When considering vaginal seeding as a way to help restore your baby’s microbiome after a C-section birth, it’s a good idea to test your vaginal microbiome. This is because you want to check that there are no disruptive microbes that you may be passing onto your newborn through the procedure.