Women spend hours imagining what their births will be like, and creating birth plans that will help them to have their best births—incorporating breathwork during labor, making sure the ambiance in the room is right, choosing the best birth team—it’s all so important. Up until recently, creating a birth plan was only a prerogative of women having vaginal births. But that’s changing. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of doctors, midwives and nurses around the country, more and more women have access to a new type of birth—the gentle C-section.

A gentle C-section offers more options around the C-section experience to birthing parents, which means you don’t have to give up how you envisioned your ideal birth would look like just because you’re having a C-section.

William Camann, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital told NPR that the gentle C-section is not a replacement for a vaginal birth; it’s just a way to improve the surgical experience. 

What is a gentle C-section?

A gentle C-section is meant to create an environment and energy during your C-section procedure that’s calm and pleasant, and one that mirrors the best parts of a vaginal birth, making the C-section experience feel more like a birth and less like a surgery. Of course, a gentle C-section is still major surgery. The C-section surgical procedure itself stays the same, but the mood is different.

When it’s time for the baby to be born, in a gentle C-section, the doctors help ease the baby out slowly—head, shoulder, abdomen and then legs—much like what happens in a vaginal birth. Skin-to-skin bonding is often done right in the OR, and sometimes breastfeeding can be initiated there too.

Some hospitals are offering moms clear drapes, instead of the standard blue one that goes up just under the woman’s breasts to prevent her from seeing any of the birth. With the clear drape, the birthing mother has the ability to look down and actually watch her baby being born (don’t worry—she won’t be able to see much of the actual surgery because her belly will be in the way).

Related: These birth photos prove how beautiful clear drape C-sections can be

Benefits for baby

In traditional C-sections, the newborn is often taken away for pediatric care before being handed to the mother, which means the birthing mother sometimes can’t hold the infant for up to 30 minutes after birth. By initiating immediate skin-to-skin contact in the OR after a gentle C-section, babies are able to better regulate their heartbeat, breathing rate, body temperature and start to work on a breastfeeding latch.

Setting the scene

Special attention is paid to the atmosphere in the operating room to ensure the space feels peaceful and therapeutic, for example, by playing music, using essential oils and keeping talking volumes low.

However, cueing up a playlist isn’t always an option, of course. If a C-section needs to happen quickly for the safety of the mother or baby, there may not be time to take extra steps to set the mood.

Is a gentle C-section right for you?

Certainly, some women may not want this type of birth, which, of course, is completely OK. It’s just awesome to know it exists when possible, for the women that do want it.

Tabitha Dawes delivered her fourth baby via a gentle Cesarean brith at N.C. Women’s Hospital and told them, “I learned that… how you give birth—even when you need a cesarean section—can be an open conversation. As a mother, that changed how I viewed the experience.”

Having a gentle C-section can help you feel more involved in your baby’s birth experience. Talk to your doctor about outlining a gentle C-section on your birth plan, asking about what’s possible in terms of playing music, dimming the lights and using a clear drape.

A note from Motherly

Gentle cesareans are a huge step in the right direction. We need to bring birth back to women. Women need options and choices, autonomy and respect. Giving birth is one of the most momentous events in a woman’s lifetime—she deserves to have it be her best birth.

Dr. Camann told NPR, “No one is trying to advocate for C-sections. We really don’t want to increase the cesarean rate, we just want to make it better for those who have to have it.”

A version of this story was originally published on Dec. 21, 2020. It has been updated.