What is a ‘Gentle’ Caesarean? (and How You Can Have One in Newcastle)

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One of my readers Sally shares her experiences of a gentle caesarean section at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. She wanted to let other readers of Newy with Kids know about this local birth option for pregnant mums in Newcastle & Hunter. Here’s a Q&A with her about her gentle caesarean birth experience.

What is a Gentle Caesarean?

A gentle caesarean birth is a more “natural” approach to the traditional planned caesarean section surgery. It attempts to include natural aspects of childbirth such as being able to witness the birth, the baby being born slowly and being placed immediately on the mum and can also involve things like delayed cord cutting and vaginal seeding.

Why did you want a Gentle Caesarean?

I had previously experienced two beautiful water births but had been given medical advice to have my third child via caesarean delivery. I was naturally pretty nervous about the prospect of a caesarean birth.  In searching for information about it, I saw a video on Facebook. In the video, the baby ‘crawled’ out of its mother while the medical team stood back and looked on. The mother was relaxed, chatting and laughing as she watched her baby emerge. Watching the video I could not forget how beautiful the experience looked, but most strikingly how similar it was to my previous births, with the only difference being the choice of exit!

How did you incorporate this into your birth plan?

My birth plan was already getting long. Firstly I wanted to copy bits from my previous labours, for example I didn’t want to know the delivery date, I wanted to delay the cord cutting, and for immediate skin to skin contact with the baby (no weighing or measuring of the baby until we were ready).

Once I started reading about gentle caesarean births, I decided to add vaginal seeding, for the baby to be born slowly and with minimal assistance (self delivery), and for the surgical curtain to be lowered so we could watch the birth.

What is vaginal seeding?

Vaginal seeding involves taking a swab from the mother’s vagina and wiping this over the baby’s mouth, eyes, face and skin shortly after birth. This allows a baby born via caesarean section to come into contact with bacteria from the birth canal, which may boost their gut bacteria and reduce the risk of conditions such as allergies or obesity.

At the moment there is no solid evidence that it works, and so the doctors were not able to perform vaginal seeding. It would be unreasonable to expect the doctors to perform a procedure that has no proven benefit. My husband didn’t want anything to do with it either! However, everyone facilitated the procedure by providing the required supplies, performing a strep B test prior to the operation (as its done with vaginal births) and giving permission for my husband to keep the swab with him during the operation.

How easy was it to organise a gentle c-section at John Hunter Hospital?

Very! The midwife team had supported my previous pregnancies and births so this would therefore be my first appointment with an obstetrician. The appointment was fantastic. The doctor went through each of my requests and ultimately I had support for it all.

There was always a caveat though – if anything went wrong with the baby or myself on the day or if I went into labour and needed to have an emergency caesarean then he could not guarantee my requests would be met. Fair enough.

I stepped out of the room and the date was set. Written in big letters beside this date was the request “Do not share this date with the mother!”

How did you cope with not knowing the date of the caesarean?

Actually quite badly! From 38.5 weeks I woke up each morning and looked expectantly at my husband waiting to be told “today’s the day”. In the last few days I was worried the baby would come early and we wouldn’t have the birth we hoped for. It was a long wait to 39.3 weeks.

Finally, while we were celebrating our son’s 6th birthday my husband brought out some champagne and announced the baby would be arriving the following day. I didn’t sleep much that night!

How was the gentle caesarean experience for you and your baby?

The next morning we were up early. It was very strange going to the hospital to have a baby when I wasn’t in labour. The team came to pre-op to introduce themselves and review the birth plan and there was a real sense of excitement. The whole team made us feel really special and safe.

The birth itself was exactly as we had hoped. After the incision was made the curtain was dropped and my head and shoulders were lifted up to watch my beautiful baby girl enter the world. The doctor gently held her head and shoulders and rocked her from side to side as she slowly wriggled out. She gave one loud scream as the cold air of the operating room hit her face and then appeared completely calm as she slowly emerged and was placed immediately on my chest.

Because the delivery had taken a few minutes, the umbilical cord had naturally stopped pulsing and was cut soon after. Post delivery, she remained with me and we were able to follow through with the seeding and her first feed.

I cannot thank the team at the John Hunter Hospital enough for making our delivery exactly as we had hoped. I wanted to share my experience with your readers because when I have mentioned it to friends they wished they had known these options were available.

My husband and I have a lot to be grateful for with three healthy children. Abigail is now 6 months old and growing fast. We will never know if the gentle caesarean benefited her but it was definitely right for us and we will always remember her beautiful, gentle entry into our world.

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