Fostering Connection and Resilience in a Cesarean Birth

While most people refer to this type of birth as a c-section, in Birthing from Within we prefer the term Cesarean Birth. By shifting our language, we acknowledge that no matter how a baby is born, that moment is still a profound rite of passage for the birthing parent that deserves to be honored as such. This language changes parents’ mental imagery so that they can shift from seeing a cesarean birth as “everything going out the window,” to turning their attention to seek out how they can stay connected to their birth process, the baby, their partner, and themselves, even if the birth is happening in a very different way than they had hoped. Below you will find ten ways to do just that if a cesarean birth becomes the next best thing in your birthing journey.

  • Draw on your pain coping mindset. While the birthing parent should be physically numb from their chest down during a cesarean birth, their emotions are not. The coping mindset they built during pregnancy to deal with labor pain can now be used to cope with the uncertainty and worry that accompany surgery. Did you learn relaxation techniques or mindfulness as part of your prenatal preparation? They can still serve you in the operating room to reduce anxiety.


  • Connect with your allies. Normally the birth partner is taken to a separate room to put on scrubs while the birthing parent is in the operating room being prepared for surgery. It can be hard for birthing parents to be without their partner during this challenging time, which makes it important for them to focus on who they CAN connect with. Connecting with a nurse, anesthesiologist, the baby, or a higher power can bring relief to a birthing parent who is anxiously awaiting their partner’s arrival in the operating room.


  • Push from your heart. Many birthing parents feel a disconnect when they birth by cesarean because they didn’t push out their baby. Parents can help bridge that divide by “pushing from their heart,” meaning that they make an intention to emotionally push, to consciously release the baby into the world, just before the baby comes out.


  • Explore options with your care provider. More and more families are giving birth via a “family-centered cesarean,” which can involve lowering the sterile drape or having a clear drape that parents can see through to watch the birth. It could involve having the doctor maneuver the baby out slowly for a gentle transition, doing delayed cord clamping, or bringing the baby to the birthing parent’s chest for skin-to-skin immediately as long as the baby is doing well. You can talk to your provider before the birth about how they can support you in a gentle cesarean.


  • Know that pressure is normal. As birth attendants work their way in to get to baby, there can be some rocking and pressure on your body. Sometimes it feels like A LOT of pressure in your chest. It helps to know that this pressure and tugging is a normal part of the process.


  • S2S ASAP. After any kind of birth it’s ideal hold baby on your chest, skinto-skin. This helps regulate the baby’s blood sugar, regulate their body temperate, and get the digestive process started. If the birthing parent is unable to hold the baby skin-to-skin after the birth, another parent can do skin-to-skin and help baby enjoy the same benefits.


  • Stimulate the breasts. If you’re planning to breastfeed, it’s important to latch the baby within the first couple of hours (and frequently thereafter) to send your body the message to produce milk. If for some reason you are unable to latch the baby within the first couple of hours, ask the hospital to bring you a breast pump to stimulate the breasts and encourage milk production (which starts off slowly, be patient!).


  • Lower your expectations of yourself as a partner, parent, family member, employee, etc. during your recovery. Your body needs time to recover from any kind of birth, but especially major surgery. Invest in your rest and give your body time to heal in the early days, and your recovery will likely be shorter overall.


  • Allow space for a range of emotions. “At least” has no place in the conversation about birth disappointment. It’s ok to feel bummed out about your birth. Your feelings are valid and deserve to be heard. If you can’t find a compassionate ear, seek out a trainer Birth Story Listener to help you process what happened in your birth. It’s also ok to feel relief and gratitude after giving birth by cesarean. No one else gets to decide how you should feel about your birth, or how long you should feel that way.


  • Notice what’s working. It’s not unusual for parents to feel let down by their body after an unexpected birth outcome. Allow yourself to notice all the ways that your body has worked and continues to work for you and your baby.

Nikki Shaheed is a certified Birthing from Within Mentor and Doula, and Co-Director of Birthing from Within International. Her own experience of giving birth by cesarean has made her passionate about helping parents take their birth preparation beyond avoidance of what they don’t want to happen, and instead help them explore how they could cope and stay connected through any kind of birth.

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