CINCINNATI -- Last month, on Feb. 21, Andrea Bradford experienced one of the most incredible days of her life.
She and her husband, Reid, of Western Hills, welcomed into the world a precious baby boy -- George -- who weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces.
It was a cesarean delivery at Mercy Health - West Hospital.
Not only did George's parents watch his birth, but Bradford got the opportunity to hold her newborn closely -- skin to skin -- immediately afterward, right in the operating room.
The experience was extra special, because immediate skin-to-skin contact for mothers and babies right after a C-section is not always an option.
"Skin-to-skin contact in the operating room was incredible," Bradford said. "Just having my baby on my chest as soon as possible, it was amazing. I didn't experience that with my first birth."
Just last year, Mercy Health - West Hospital started offering mothers the option of holding their babies immediately after a cesarean delivery.
"We promote skin-to-skin contact, which is placing our babies directly on mom's chest after birth, … even in the operating room," said Debbie Knapp, Nursing Supervisor at Mercy Health - West Hospital Family Birthing Center. "Those families can have the same wonderful bonding experience, whether they have a vaginal birth or a cesarean birth."
While it's not new for hospitals to offer mothers skin-to-skin contact with their newborns after a regular vaginal birth, it is a relatively new practice for hospitals to offer skin-to skin contact immediately after a C-section.
In the past, mothers who had C-sections would go to a separate recovery room while nurses cared for their newborn babies.
"Traditionally, it could take anywhere from one to two hours before a mom would get the baby after cesarean section," says Knapp. "We used to take our babies over to a radiant warmer, give a full assessment, give them a bath, and then take them to their moms."
The Golden Hour -- a special time for mothers and babies
Knapp says that skin-to-skin contact for mothers and babies during the time immediately following birth is important, for many reasons.
That period is known as the "Golden Hour," a special time during which babies naturally take the mother's breast, suckle, and begin learning how to breastfeed.
"When babies are placed skin-to-skin with their moms after delivery, one of the most special things you see is that baby actually connecting with the mother," says Knapp. "Our babies will open their eyes. They will actually make eye contact with mom. Their vital signs just really calm down. Both mom and baby are very relaxed, and we actually see our babies start breastfeeding right there immediately after delivery."
For mothers, skin-to-skin contact after a cesarean delivery:
- Reduces anxiety and worry about the baby.
- Reduces postpartum depression.
- Eases disappointment for those who had hoped to have a vaginal birth.
For babies, skin-to-skin contact helps to:
- Regulate body temperature.
- Regulate vital signs.
- Promote successful breastfeeding.
The family viewing drape -- a way to watch the big moment
In the past, it was difficult to offer skin-to-skin contact with C-sections, because operating room setups were not conducive to it. Hospitals cited medical and safety protocols.
In fact, many mothers who had C-sections didn't even see their babies being born, because it was a surgical procedure.
Now, to improve the overall birth experience for families and to accommodate mothers who want skin-to-skin contact with their babies immediately after a C-section, Mercy Health - West Hospital also offers the family viewing drape.
"The best moment of all is when they use the family viewing drape," says Bradford. "You can see your baby coming out."
The family viewing drape is a double curtain. When it is time for the baby's birth, the nurse anesthetist helps to lower one of the drapes, revealing a clear "see-through" curtain that allows mother and significant others to watch from the head of the bed, while the delivery team works to deliver the baby safely.
"We gently raise the mother's head so she can…see her baby come into this world, right before the baby is placed skin-to-skin with her," explains Knapp.
"I'll never forget it for the rest of my life. He came out wailing, and it's just instant tears when you see your newborn," Bradford says.
Meanwhile, the delivery team in the operating room has been trained to facilitate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby safely and efficiently.
"We have a nurse who receives the baby. As soon as the umbilical cord is cut, the doctor will pass off the baby to a nurse, and that nurse gently wipes off the baby and brings the baby to the mom in the bed. And we'll help position the baby for the mom," explains Knapp.
Holding baby for the first time
Andrea says the nurse helped her feel comfortable as she held her baby in the operating room after the cesarean delivery.
"If I felt I couldn't handle this, or if it was too much for me, she was right there," remembers Bradford. "I held my baby the whole time."
Knapp says that skin-to-skin contact after a C-section, along with the family viewing drape, is offered to all patients at Mercy Health - West Hospital before the birth. It's their choice.
Of course, if an emergency arises, the first priority for the doctors and nurses will be tending to the safety of the mother and baby.
Fortunately, for the Bradfords and their new baby, George, all worked out well.
"It was wonderful," remembers Andrea Bradford. "He's here. We're so glad we had this experience."