ine.co.uk/tol/life_ and_style/ health/article60
From The Times
April 4, 2009
The new "natural" Caesarean
With more babies being born by Caesarean section, a new movement is
campaigning to make the event a more "natural" experience
The lights of the operating theatre are dimmed and there is a mood of calm
among the hospital staff. A midwife softly narrates a continuing procedure
to a patient who is squeezing her husband's hand. The surgeon gives the nod:
it's time. The drape across the patient's abdomen is lowered and her head is
raised. Her eyes widen as she and her husband watch their baby, tiny and
pink with a mop of black hair, being gently delivered from her. There is a
moment of collective awe before the newborn's cry fills the air. "It's a
boy!" his mother gasps, before enveloping him in a warm hug.
This mother has just had a "natural Caesarean", a revolutionary technique
that attempts to turn one of the world's most common operations into an
experience closer to vaginal birth. The idea was conceived by Professor
Nicholas Fisk, formerly a consultant obstetrician at Queen Charlotte's
Hospital in London, in response to the rising numbers of Caesareans in the
UK. Caesarean deliveries account for 24 per cent of all births. More than
half are emergency C-sections rather than planned, and maternal age is a
factor; according to the National Sentinel Caesarean Section Audit, mothers
under the age of 20 have a C-section rate of just 13 per cent, compared with
33 per cent for mothers aged between 40 and 50.
There's no doubt that a Caesarean is major surgery. It is also the joyous
moment of arrival for parents and this is what Professor Fisk, and two
colleagues - Dr Felicity Plaat, consultant anaesthetist, and Jenny Smith, a
senior midwife and author (see panel) - set out to emphasise.
"It struck me that all the effort was going into changing normal childbirth
but that Caesarean section was still steeped in old surgical rituals," says
Fisk. "In some cases I was horrified; the baby would be dragged out like a
tumour and passed to several medical staff before the mother. It was ripe
His team concentrated on three areas. First, parental involvement: this
meant dropping the drape that "divorced" the mother from her abdomen, to
allow her to see her baby's head emerge; the baby itself blocks the mother's
view of the operation.
The second point was physiological: Fisk showed that when a Caesarean is
performed slowly the baby is able to "autoresuscitate" - start breathing
unaided - while still attached to the placenta, as in normal birth. The baby
is "half-delivered" and a combination of the naturally contracting uterus
and the baby's vigorous wriggles allow the lungs to expel fluid in a similar
way to a vaginal birth. This reduces the risk of the baby needing help to
breathe; a common occurrence after a Caesarean.
Finally, Fisk wanted to see newborns handed immediately to their mother for
skin-to-skin bonding. "There are now official standards for skin-to-skin
bonding in childbirth, but these are almost never met with Caesareans," he
says. One obstruction is that the monitoring equipment needed for patients
in surgery is routinely attached to the mother's chest. "In a natural
Caesarean we attach the ECG wires to the back of the chest so that the baby
can be placed on the mother after birth," Plaat says. The anaesthetic dose
is lowered so that there is no "heaviness in the arms" to prevent holding
the baby, and a clip that measures oxygen in the blood is attached to the
Plaat knows from experience how important it is for a mother to be given her
child as quickly as possible: "My son was passed around, measured, weighed,
dressed and even had his hair washed before being given to me. A crucial
player, therefore, is the midwife . She has to be enthusiastic and involved.
It's not just 'dumping baby on mum' and writing up notes; it's making sure
that the baby is safe, is not going to slip off, and is warm. We put towels
over the baby and even bubble-wrap - the kind you buy in big rolls in
Smith, whose book Your Baby, Your Body, Your Birth advocates a softer
general approach to birth, adds: "And while keeping both mother and baby
safe, we focus on the fact that this is a birth. We bring in the elements of
normal birth: the mother can see her baby's sex at the same time as the
operating team. The father can perform a second 'cutting of the cord' and
the midwife can show him where to clamp it. It is entirely different from
the experience parents have had before."
While plans to audit the effects of the natural Caesarean on mother and baby
are in the pipeline, women who have heard of the technique want it now. The
procedure is unsuitable for babies who are in the breech position, or when
the baby or mother, or both, are in danger, or for premature babies whose
lungs are not mature. But Ruwan Wimalasundera, consultant obstetrician at
Queen Charlotte's, says that 90 per cent of his patients ask for the natural
Caesarean and more than 100 have been performed in the past 18 months.
"Parents love it," he says. "The benefits are obvious: mothers bond with
their baby earlier."
Those who have had a natural Caesarean could not be more effusive. Camilla
Fisher had one last summer, after an emergency Caesarean two years before.
"It was the most relaxing environment: calm and reassuring," she recalls.
"The staff and my husband were all in green surgical gowns, but it didn't
feel like an operation. When you've had a natural Caesarean you wonder why
it was ever different. I've never felt that I was deprived of a 'natural
Discuss your views on birth styles at timesonline. co.uk/alphamummy
How to have a 'natural' C-section
Jenny Smith, a leading midwife and author of Your Body, Your Baby, Your
Birth (Rodale UK, £14.99), gives these tips:
Ask if the surgical team will play music and if your partner can take
Ask for an epidural dose that won't make your arms "heavy".
Ask for the screen to be dropped so that you can see your baby being
You can ask to call the sex of your baby yourself.
Ask the midwife to pass your baby directly to you so that you can enjoy
skin-to- skin bonding immediately.
Ask that the father may perform the second "cutting of the cord" while the
baby is in your arms.
10 April 2009
Food for thought during Cesarean Awareness Month. Love this & hate this...what do you think?