A cesarean, although a surgical procedure, is primarily a birth, one that needs to be respected. Bonding is not lost if a cesarean is necessary. Fathers are now welcome at cesarean births, and it is a beautiful sight to see a father with his newborn during a surgical birth. Here are some ways to foster birth bonding following a cesarean.
Mother Bonding After Cesarean Birth
Request a regional anesthesia—meaning an epidural, which anesthetizes from the navel to the toes. Unlike general anesthesia that puts you to sleep during the birth, an epidural allows you to be awake and aware during the procedure, and enables you to bond with your baby following the operation. Expect the bonding time to be somewhat limited, since you may feel physically overwhelmed, have only one arm free to hold your baby (there will be an intravenous drip in your other arm), and your baby may be able to spend just a few minutes cheek-to-cheek and eye-to-eye with you. The important thing is that you connect with your baby either visually or physically. Though bonding is different after a surgical birth, an important connection is still made.
Father Bonding After Cesarean Birth
You can sit at the head of the table holding your wife’s hand during the operation. At the moment of birth, you are able to look over the sterile drape and see baby being lifted up and out. After being surgically removed from the uterus, baby is taken immediately to a nearby infant warmer, suctioned, given oxygen (if necessary), and attended to until all systems are stable. At that time you can enjoy some family bonding time, which usually takes a little longer than with a vaginal birth. At that time you can enjoy some family bonding time. Then when the operation is complete and your wife is in the recovery room, go with your baby to the nursery and enjoy some father-bonding time. Hold your baby in the nursery. Connect verbally and physically. Even if your baby needs special care, you can still be close to baby’s isolette. When the nursery staff gives you the green light, hold and talk to your baby. You’ll find that your baby will respond to your voice because he’s heard it all along in utero. I have noticed that hands-on fathers who take an active part in their baby’s care immediately after birth find it easier to get attached to their babies later.
Father Bonding Stories
As the former director of a university hospital newborn nursery, I have attended many cesarean births and personally escorted many fathers—some willing and some reluctant—from the operating room into the nursery, where I put them to work. Here’s a story about Jim and what his cesarean-birthed baby did for him. I met Jim and his wife, Mary, prenatally, and Mary shared with me that she had a difficulty getting her husband involved in the pregnancy and feared that he was not going to be involved in the birth. She expected him to be one of those dads who would become involved as soon as the child was old enough to throw a football. Jim thought the whole scene of delivering babies was strictly a woman’s thing and that he would stay in the waiting room. As it turned out, Mary needed a cesarean, and I persuaded Jim to accompany her into the operating room and to be at her side during the delivery. After the baby was born and all her vitals were stable, I wrapped baby in two warm blankets and orchestrated some bonding time among Mary, Jim, and Tiffany while the operation was being completed. I then asked Jim to come with me to the nursery. It did not surprise me that his initial reluctance about getting involved in the birth was already melting. Jim was still in awe of all the theatrics surrounding the operation, but he willingly followed me.
While in the nursery, I said to Jim, “I need to attend another delivery. It’s important that someone stay with your baby and stimulate her, because babies breathe better when someone is stroking and talking to them.” I encouraged Jim to put his hands on his baby, sing to her, rub her back, and just let himself be as loving and caring as he could be. I returned about a half-hour later and saw big Jim standing there singing to and stroking his baby as the pair was really getting to know each other. I assured him that his initial investment was going to pay long-term dividends. The next day, when I made my hospital rounds and went in to talk with Mary, she exclaimed, “What on earth happened to my husband? I can’t get our baby away from him. He’s really hooked. He would breastfeed if he could. I never thought I’d see that big guy be so sensitive.”