Preparing Dads for C-Sections: What You Need to Know

scrubs father with baby With up to 20 percent of babies born in the US being delivered by C-section today, more and more expectant couples are considering how they might handle mom having to go under the knife to deliver their little one. The fact of the matter is that while the surgical procedure is more routine than ever (for better or worse) and perfectly safe, cesarean sections come with different downstream effects than vaginal births.

For instance, dads or partners whose babies are delivered by C-sections will have responsibilities that those whose kids arrive via vaginal delivery don't. 

Here, 8 things a dad may need to do if his partner has a C-section.

  1. Play the waiting game. "Dad can usually be in the operating room during a cesarean section, so he gets to see the baby immediately after birth," explains Siobhan Dolan, MD, MPH, medical advisor to March of Dimes, and author of Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby. (Still, some hospitals may not permit it, or it might not be possible in the case of an emergency C-section or when general anesthesia is used.) When fathers are allowed, they're typically required to wait until mom is settled in the OR, and they've changed into scrubs before they can enter. Then they're asked to stand by their partner's head and behind a partition or screen that separates them from the sterile area where the cesarean is being performed.
  2. Request extra "equipment" into the operating room. Fathers who want to see their baby being pulled out can ask nurses for a mirror, which will allow them to get a good look at what's going on during the delivery.
  3. Be a health advocate for mom and baby. When it comes to several decisions parents have to make or act on right after delivery, a dad may be the one who has to speak up on his family's behalf. For this reason, it's helpful for a couple to discuss and make their most important post-birth calls about interventions like the vitamin K shot, eye ointment, saving the placenta, etc., before the birth. One caveat: "He can't cut the umbilical cord, because the surgical field is sterile," notes Dr. Dolan.
  4. Step in for mom when it comes to skin-to-skin. Even in cases when the mother is awake, early skin-to-skin contact between her and her newborn directly after a C-section might be limited for practical and medical safety reasons, notes a study published in the journal Birth. In those cases, a dad may want to have skin-to-skin contact with the baby within two hours after birth. The Birth study found that infants who had skin-to-skin with their dads stopped crying, became calmer, and reached a drowsy state earlier than infants who were placed in a cot instead.
  5. Lend a hand with breastfeeding. Moms who deliver by C-section may have a slightly tougher time breastfeeding, but it can still be done successfully. Even after being given general anesthesia, a mother could breastfeed as soon as she's awake enough. Hence it can be helpful for a dad to get involved by reminding the OB/GYN and anesthesiologist that his spouse intends to breastfeed. He could also work with a doula or lactation consultant to help facilitate the process by helping mom get into a comfortable position and encouraging the baby to latch. And by paying close attention when professionals are assisting a mom with the baby's latch in the hospital, a dad can help later on at home. William Sears, MD, recommends fathers learn the "lower-lip flip" technique, which entails using the index finger to press down on the baby's chin to evert the lower lip, so that both of her lips encircle the areola like a fish instead of tightly turned inward.
  6. Offer emotional support for mom. Considering that it's a major operation, it's no surprise for moms to feel as though they need some time to decompress emotionally after a C-section, especially if it was an emergency. For this reason, dads may want to treat their partner to a massage or just offer to do what they can to relieve any possible post-op stress.
  7. Be the primary caretaker for baby. Recovery from a C-section may keep mom bed- or house-bound for a bit, so fathers may have to be prepared to take the reins on baby's health care. "If the baby needs a procedure or additional medical help, the dad is the one often speaking to the pediatrician," explains Stephen Guy, MD, OB/GYN at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio.
  8. Ask for a longer paternity leave. "Recovery from cesarean section takes about six weeks, and during this time, a mom will need to refrain from heavy lifting, strenuous exercise, and intercourse," explains Dr. Dolan. "Those are important things for a dad to know, [as] he'll have to take more time off of work potentially while mom recovers."

How did your partner handle your C-section birth?


Image via © Terry Vine/Blend Images/Corbis

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