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A New Natural

The heart monitor was beating a steady cadence. Ba-beep. Ba-beep. Ba-beep.

The baby would soon be here.

In just a matter of moments, Christina Fontana would hold her baby boy in her arms for the first time. She wanted to touch him so badly that she could almost feel him against her skin as they made the first incision.

Earlier that mild December morning, Fontana had approached her labor and delivery nurse, Anna, with a strange request.

“I teased her and asked her if she was in a good mood. I knew that my requests were going to take her out of her routine,” says Fontana. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

What Fontana requested is a new way of experiencing the C-section. She wanted to avoid the feeling of being removed from the birthing experience. She wanted the immediate bonding that mothers who are able to give natural birth get to experience.

“I asked that the drape be lowered so that I could see him come into the world, no bath and “skin to skin” shortly after a quick exam in the OR, which was really controversial,” says Fontana. “Most hospitals that have these options refer to it as a ‘Natural C-Section’.”

The caesarean section, or C-Section, was not a new experience for Fontana. The birth of her first child, a beautiful baby girl named Mila, had been complicated. After laboring for hours, Mila’s shoulders were too broad to fit through the birth canal and her heart rate was quickly lowering as she pressed against the umbilical cord. They had to do an emergency C-section, and they had to do it fast. Mila entered the world looking purple and appeared lifeless. After being resuscitated, Mila was whisked away without meeting her mother and father face-to-face.

“All of my family members met her through the glass nursery; they got to see her before I did. I didn’t even get to hold her or anything,” says Fontana. “So when it came time for my son, I made requests.”

Anna and Fontana’s OB-GYN as well as her anesthesiologist were all excited to help create a lasting birthing experience. When the time came, they lowered the drape just as Fontana hoped they would.

Only moments after he was born, Anna placed the baby, Mason, on Fontana’s chest. She and her husband were able to hold and kiss their perfect little boy.

Mason’s first moments after birth were spent in the arms of his parents, even though he was born through C-section. Surrounded by white and blue breathing masks and caps, and covered with soft tan heated blankets, Mason could smell his mother’s skin for the first time. He could feel her heart beat, and she could feel his.

“It was beautiful. Even though I could not have my ‘ideal’ birth, it was as close to a vaginal birth as I could imagine getting,” Fontana says.

The practice of gentle or natural C-sections, while still uncommon in America, is growing in popularity. Mothers having a C-section crave the bonding experience, and this practice is able to get them as close as possible.

Dr. James Betoni, maternal fetal medicine expert and OB/GYN in Boise, Idaho, has found that not only is this beneficial for the new mothers, but for the babies as well.

“The immediate bonding of skin to skin after delivery as well as the entire family being in the recovery room [helps with] continued bonding time and initiating breast feeding,” says Betoni.

Part of a ‘natural’ or ‘gentle’ C-section can also include swabbing the baby’s head with gauze that has been placed in the mother’s birth canal to facilitate microorganisms that would have been present in natural birth.

“There is a good evidence that babies are forever affected by the maternal micro biome at birth, which are the microorganisms that are endemic to the mother. Those organisms that are contacted via vaginal birth are different than in a C-section,” says Betoni. Wiping the baby with the micro biome, offers a more natural birth for both the mother and child and gives the baby a stronger bond with the mother.

Because the operating room is so cold, maintaining the baby’s body temperature can be a major concern.

Fontana Family with Mason Tampa Bay Parenting 2015 August

“In Europe they use bubble wrap and heated blankets to keep the temperature warm for the baby. Well of course they didn’t have bubble wrap on hand, so Anna gave me a bunch of heated blankets and an MRI cap to keep the heat on Mason’s head,” Fontana says. “She came into recovery to check his temperature and she was amazed that he was able to maintain his body temperature.”

While the practice is still fairly new, many hospitals have started offering different types of birthing experiences. Tampa General Hospital is among the leaders when it comes to gentle births, as well as Bayfront Medical Center, where Mason was born.

If you have a hospital chosen as part of your birth plan, but you are not sure if they offer the more natural options for C-sections, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

“Many hospitals offer the ‘gentle’ or ‘natural’ C-section but term it other things, so make sure you elucidate what exactly you are looking for as a patient before not choosing a particular hospital,” says Betoni. “Sometimes patients need to educate their health care providers just as it is our job to educate the patients.”

A ‘natural’ or ‘gentle’ C-section has no additional risks, aside from needing to monitor the baby’s body temperature. The procedure is still the same, and Dr. Betoni says that because C-sections are so common there is little risk with a modern C-section.

“There are still debates in the literature about some of the options offered in a ‘gentle’ C-section as far as their clinical significance, but if the patient leaves with a good experience and healthy baby then the risk of having a ‘bad experience’ is low,” says Betoni.

However, Betoni warns that a mother needing an emergency C-section may not be able to request a ‘natural’ or ‘gentle’ C-section. Often, in an emergency C-section, time is crucial in a safe delivery and the child may already have complications that make a ‘natural’ experience not possible. If you are having a planned C-section, you are more likely to have time to discuss your options with a doctor and can enjoy the difference in experiences.

For Fontana, the birth of her son made all the difference in the world.

“When I had my daughter, I almost didn’t even feel like I actually had just had a child. I almost didn’t believe it,” says Fontana. “But with my son, we bonded much more instantly than I got to bond with my daughter, and that was amazing.”

Whether you choose a traditional C-section, a ‘natural’ C-section or a natural birth, Fontana hopes that new moms remember that although your birth plan might change, the results will be the same.

“I always tell new moms that no matter what, even if you have to have a C-section, don’t worry. You still get a prize in the end,” says Fontana.

Fontana Family complete Tampa Bay Parenting 2015 August

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