Currently, about a third of mothers in the United States give birth by cesarean section. Since a cesarean takes place in the sterile, cold environment of an operating room, it can be forgotten that this is still a life changing moment for the parents. With that in mind, here are some ideas that can help make this surgical experience a little more intimate.

Learn about the procedure
By educating yourself about how the procedure is done, you can often ease the some of the fearful and anxious emotions surrounding the surgical process. Additionally, by knowing what an operating rooms looks like and feels like, you can ease more tension. Asking your doctor if there are any specific details that are unique to your hospital can also help. For example, do they allow more than one person to come into the operating room with you or when is your partner allowed to enter the room?

“Set the Stage”
You may not think you have much control of the environment for a cesarean since it will take place in an operating room. However, there are still some personal touches you may be able to include that will make the experience more personal and intimate. You may have the option of bringing music into the OR or wearing headphones. You can also ask your partner to wear a specific scent that you find calming and relaxing. If there is a specific picture or image that you find comfort or strength from, your partner may be able to bring that along to show you during the procedure. Concentrate on blocking everyone else out of the room with the exception of your partner, and have eye contact with them if you find that calming and grounding. You can also ask for there to be as little extraneous chit chat amongst the staff as possible, which can be distracting.

Lowering the screen
A screen will be placed around your chest region to prevent you from seeing the surgical procedure taking place at your abdominal region. You can request for this screen to be lowered a bit so you can see your baby being delivered from your uterus.

Remember What Your Learned in Prenatal Yoga
This is not likely the place where you will be using the physical asanas we practice in class, but more likely a time to call upon the calming breath work, concentration and imagery and internal strength we study.

I am excited to share with you what one of “graduates” said about her experience with her cesarean birth.

The surgery itself was not fun, but the breath-work, the faux contractions and the asanas helped. As I lay on the surgery table (strapped, but not fully unconscious) I occasionally felt myself slipping, I don’t know if it was physical (blood loss) or anxiety, but each moment my husband looked me in the eye (like we’d practiced at our childbirth ed classes!) and took deep breaths with me. As I focused on my breath I was able to stay present in the moment, and staying present in the moment allowed me to actually enjoy the labor of my son. I could feel him being removed from my body and to this day feel I truly had a “labor experience.” ~Wendy H

Skin to Skin Contact and Talking to the Baby
There has been undisputed research and support that immediate skin to skin contact and verbal communication following birth is beneficial for both parents and baby. (Please feel free to read Study Finds Benefits For Skin To Skin Contact With Newborns) Several mothers who knew they were having an elective cesarean have expressed concern about this issue since their arms during the surgery are likely unavailable to hold their newborn baby. In cases like this, the partner can be the one to have the skin to skin contact and also bring the baby right up to the mother’s cheek or upper chest.

The September 2010 perinatal care journal, Birth, featured a study involving 37 healthy infants born to first time mothers after an elective cesarean. The study showed “When placed in skin-to-skin contact and exposed to the parents’ speech, the infants initiated communication with soliciting calls with the parents within approximately 15 minutes after the birth.” The authors, who were searching early vocal interaction in conjunction with a larger study on parent-infant interaction following a C-section, concluded that, “these finding give reason to encourage parents to keep the newborn in skin-to-skin contact after cesarean section, to support the early onset of the first vocal communication.” (Midwifery Today, Winter 2010/2011 issue page 65)

Take Pictures!
In most cases the hospital will allow the partner to bring a camera into the operating room. This can be a great opportunity for the first family photos. Given that most cameras are digital, if for some reason the baby cannot be brought over to the mother, the partner may be able to take some pictures and then show the new eager mama.

Check with the hospital regarding their protocol of bringing a camera into the OR, which a sterile environment.

Ask Where the Baby Will Go After the Surgery

Up until recently Cornell New York Presbyterian had a rule that the baby was to go to the nursery for several hours after a cesarean birth. Luckily, that rule has been lifted and the baby can be in the recovery room with the parents.

Be sure to find out where the baby goes after the birth. If there is a problem and the baby needs medical care or needs to be in the NICU- it may be a good idea to send your partner to stay with the baby while you rest and recoup.

Breastfeed ASAP!
If all is well and baby is with you in the recovery room, start to initiate breastfeeding. If you are having problems, most Labor and Delivery nurses have a fair amount of experience with this and can be of great assistance. Don’t be shy about asking for help. The nurses can be very knowledgeable in helping you find a good position to hold your baby. Remember that you just had major abdominal surgery, so you will likely need to experiment with positions other than across your upper belly region.

Learn About the Recovery Period

Just as you educated yourself about the surgical procedure of a cesarean birth, take the time to understand the aftermath. At the Prenatal Yoga Center, we do not allow women who underwent a C-section to return to a postnatal yoga until 6 weeks after they had their baby. Find out how long your doctor recommends you wait to return to physical activity. Remember, it takes time to recover and rebuild your stamina.

Here are some questions and ideas to think about in your recovery period.

What kind of pain medication will be available for after your surgery?
How long could it take for your scar to heal?
Is there specific care you need to give the incision scar?
Place a pillow at your abdomen when you cough or when feeding your baby to add some extra support to your belly.
Take short walks on the second or third day after your surgery, but don’t over exert yourself.
Stay hydrated and eat well.
It is common to need a stool softener after a cesarean.
Don’t be shy about asking for help in the hospital.
Arrange for help and support at home.
Have the contact information for a lactation consultant handy in case you need help with breastfeeding.
Ask your any friends or family who may have had a C-section if they have any words of wisdom to pass along.

I hope that these ideas can help make the cesarean birth your child an exciting, cherished and intimate experience.