Although a c-section is a relatively short procedure (approximately 1hr in total) compared with a vaginal birth, this does not diminish the personal experience of the birth. Often new parents may not be aware of the options available to them during the birth and immediately after so it’s worth going through a checklist in their last appointment ahead of the birth to ensure they feel fully prepared. Protocols vary between hospitals but new parents will appreciate knowing what is and isn’t possible beforehand.
A checklist for guiding parents*
Make sure expectant parents know the set-up of the theatre i.e. how many people on the delivery team and their roles, the equipment, etc.
Reassure that the mother will have her birth partner present during the surgery. Inform the birth partner they will need to be dressed in scrubs which will be provided for them on the day
Discuss whether the parents want a screen during the surgery
Tell them that they can request quiet during the birth so that mother’s or father’s voice is the first their newborn hears
Advise that they ask the delivery team to practise delayed or optimal cord clamping for maximum benefit from the placenta
Go through the details of the assessment immediately after the baby is delivered
If cameras/phones can be taken into the theatre, inform the birth partner they will likely be the one taking all the pictures as the staff have their hands full! Encourage filming of baby’s assessment, e.g. weighing, etc. if permitted
Let parents know if they can play their own music
Explain when skin-to-skin contact (SSC) occurs. If SSC between mother and baby is not possible in the theatre, advise if the birth partner can do this in the meantime or discuss alternatives
Inform parents of what happens in the recovery area and the postnatal ward, e.g. checks on vitals and vaginal bleeding, pain relief, support to feed their baby, transfer to the postnatal ward, removal of catheter and when mother will be up and moving again
Finally, it is worth informing parents who may have a vaginal birth planned that sometimes an emergency Caesarean may be necessary so the above checklist can also be used in this case.
Skin-to skin-contact in the theater
Why skin-to-skin is so important
SSC is defined as placing a naked newborn on a mother’s bare chest immediately after birth5 during which routine care, such as cord clamp and temperature monitoring, can be performed.6The efficacy of SSC has been well-documented in scientific literature. Key benefits include stabilising the blood-oxygen level, body temperature and breathing rate of newborns. In addition to encouraging breastfeeding initiation, SSC is known to reduce infant crying, boost infant growth and development and strengthens the parent-child attachment relationship.7In one study tracking births over a three-year period, researchers reported a significant decrease in the proportion of Caesarean births transferred to the NICU for observation after implementing SSC.5
Did you know?
As babies born by Caesarean section do not acquire maternal vaginal microbes, SSC immediately after birth enables microbial colonisation of the newborn with maternal skin microbiota.8
The stages of skin-to-skin
Timings of SSC can vary but these are the three main stages9
Immediate [first minute]
Very early [30-40mins]
Early [first 24hrs]
As part of the WHO and UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative to promote breastfeeding, the guidance states that an important step is to ‘facilitate immediate and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact and support mothers to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth.’ This is recommended regardless of the method of delivery and should ideally occur within five minutes of birth4,10. Various countries have incorporated this initiative into their own practices, including UK, Japan and Australia11,12 ,although policies can still vary between healthcare providers within these countries.
The most recent Cochrane review of the practice of early SSC for mothers and their healthy newborn infants asserts, ‘since we found no evidence of harm in any included studies, we conclude the evidence supports that early SSC should be normal practice for healthy newborns, including those born by caesarean....’13 Furthermore, whilst Caesarean deliveries present certain challenges regarding immediate SSC in the theatre, the published literature, albeit limited, suggests that SSC can be provided safely and immediately in the theatre with the collaboration and education of staff, mothers and partners.14 It could be argued that SSC plays an especially important role in c-section births as this type of delivery is typically associated with reduced breastfeeding at hospital discharge compared with vaginal delivery.15 One study demonstrated that elective caesarean delivery affects short-term breastfeeding success in about 1:4 of mother-infant pairs, citing the lack of immediate SSC contact as a key contributing factor.16 In another study, hospitals that implemented immediate SSC following a Caesarean delivery observed an increased rate of breastfeeding among new mothers.17
Midwife Marie Louise comments: “If a Caesarean is clinically indicated, parents should be encouraged to communicate their decision to begin skin-to-skin in the theatre with their healthcare provider as soon as possible. Healthcare professionals, particularly midwives, play a critical role in advocating to keep mothers and babies together immediately after birth and educating on the importance of immediate, uninterrupted skin-to-skin care and early breastfeeding.”
Whilst there may be some medical or safety reasons for delaying SSC, parents-to-be should be made aware of their options regarding SSC so they can advise their hospital of their plan in advance. For example, if the mother has received general anaesthetic or experiences complications post-birth but the baby is healthy, the father can engage in SSC with his newborn instead.
Fathers and SSC
Despite limited studies on SSC following a Caesarean exclusively, particularly regarding the role of fathers, the research to date has largely concluded that paternal SSC is optimal for the newborn’s well-being when separated from his or her mother after a c-section.18,19,20
In one study, the fathers’ SSC had a positive impact on infant crying behaviour and also appeared to facilitate coordination of the pre-feeding behaviour17. SSC has also demonstrated benefits for the fathers too: helping to facilitate the transition of expectant fathers; hastening the developing of paternal attachment; and, enhancing confidence in assuming a parenting role. 18,19,21,22 These benefits indicate that fathers may assume a greater role in immediate post-partum touch when new mothers are physically weak.17
“Skin-to-skin contact presents a great opportunity for fathers to be more involved from the very beginning of his baby’s life. I would like to see more hospitals and healthcare providers expand skin-to-skin approaches to include fathers to aid their transition into parenthood and enhance early bonding” adds Midwife Marie Louise.
The Power of SSC
To demonstrate the true power of SSC between parents and newborns, WaterWipes teamed up with one of the world’s leading experts on kangaroo care, Dr. Susan Ludington to track the impact of SSC on three newborns. Check out the powerful SCC videos to see how SSC regulated their baby’s breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels and temperature within five minutes of being held in this position.
About the spokesperson
Marie Louise is an NHS Midwife, a PTLLS adult educator and hypnobirthing teacher from the UK and Author of The Modern Midwife's Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond.