Yes, You Can Still Make A Birth Plan For A C-Section
Every birth plan should leave room for the possibility of a C-section, and every pregnant person should discuss the possibility with their doctor or midwife. If you know in advance that you’re going to have a C-section, you’ll want to create a surgical-specific list of birth preferences.
Usually, parents-to-be start having those conversations about birth preferences with their providers early on in the third trimester, says Cristina Aquia Haas, a labor and delivery nurse at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. “I always recommend bringing these things up to the OB at one of the prenatal appointments to make sure they can accommodate your preferences and that everybody is on the same page with what you want to happen if you have a C-section,” she says.
And even if you end up having an emergency C-section, you don’t have to throw your birth plan out the window. While it will depend on the circumstances of your pregnancy and birth, there are still ways to incorporate your priorities into your C-section, and it’s definitely worth discussing with your provider ahead of time.
Here are a few things to consider asking your OB-GYN or midwife about — and adding to your list of birth preferences:
If your support team can join you in the OR
You may want your partner or doula with you in the operating room, so make sure to ask your provider about the hospital’s policy and update your birth preferences accordingly. Haas says hospitals generally allow a partner in the OR when a patient isn’t under general anesthesia, but policies may vary, especially during the pandemic.
Whether you want a clear drape in the OR
Typically, there will be a drape placed between you and your belly while the doctor is performing surgery. If you want to see the baby being born, Haas says you can request the providers use a clear drape instead. “If you are squeamish, don't worry, the clear drape is typically only up for the delivery of the baby, not the whole procedure,” she says.
When you want to have skin-to-skin contact
You’ll probably want to hold your baby as soon as possible after birth, so ask your provider when that’s possible, and if you can have skin-to-skin time while they finish the surgery. If you’re not able to do skin-to-skin right after for some reason, Haas suggests making a plan for your partner to do skin-to-skin after delivery.
If you want to see the baby immediately
You can also request that the doctor or nurse show you your baby as soon as they’re delivered (assuming there’s no need for immediate intervention, Haas says). Certified childbirth educator Mindy Cockeram suggests letting your provider know, too, if you want to discover the sex of the baby yourself rather than having the medical team announce it.
If you want delayed cord clamping
Some parents choose to delay cutting the cord after a delivery, which may not be possible in an OR due to cooler temperatures. Sometimes, Haas says, hospitals make exceptions for 1-2 minutes, so make sure to let your provider know if it’s a priority for you.
If you can play music during the surgery
It depends on the operating team’s preferences, of course, but Dr. Mya Zapata, an OBGYN at UCLA Health, says many hospitals encourage their C-section patients to play some calming music on a phone or Bluetooth speaker. The OR team might also be okay with you bringing in essential oils, if a soothing scent will help quell your anxiety, she says. If you think it will help, it’s worth asking for it.
Where the baby will be afterward
Is the baby going to be in your room with you? Or is there a nursery where the baby will go while you’re sleeping? These are questions that Tyrese Coleman wishes she’d thought to ask when she delivered her baby via C-section eight years ago. “I feel like that’s a really important question for a C-section!” she says. “After having major surgery, you might not be 100% up for dealing with the baby overnight in your room.”
What the healing process will be like
“In retrospect, I wish I would have asked how they would describe the pain afterwards and the healing process,” says Amanda Fields, an assistant professor of English in Connecticut, who had an emergency C-section. What would the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months after the surgery be like — both physically and psychologically? What did her doctors typically see from their patients?
“A lot of the advice stops at the birth,” she notes.
Coleman, too, wishes she’d asked about what kind of pain to expect immediately after the operation, and how she might plan and pack for it. (A big fluffy pillow to clutch over her mid-section might’ve been nice, she says.)
The key to the plan is to make room for the unexpected.
You could start by asking, as Zapata suggests, how long you can expect to be in the hospital after birth, something that will depend on the institution’s policies and your insurance coverage. Overall, of course, the healing process is a big topic, too unwieldy to cover in a single conversation. But Fields wishes she’d thought to at least start a conversation about the aftermath before the procedure even began.
“The key to the plan is to make room for the unexpected,” says Cori Creighton, RN, a labor and delivery nurse at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital. “Many women feel most comfortable if they have a general plan when they come to the hospital, and we use it as a communication tool to understand what the patient wants during labor and delivery.”
Cristina Aquia Haas, a labor and delivery nurse at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center
Certified childbirth educator Mindy Cockeram
Dr. Mya Zapata, an OBGYN at UCLA Health
Cori Creighton, RN, a labor and delivery nurse at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital