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The Debate Over Rising Rates of Cesarean Delivery

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On the Rise

Birthing imageAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), rates of cesarean deliveries (C-section) have been rising in many countries, including the US, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Ireland. Now, countries like Brazil, India, and China are also seeing an increase in rates.

While the WHO recommends rates below 15%, C-sections account for over 30% of deliveries in the US. It is estimated that 1 in 3 mothers has a C-section.

Why is the rate rising? Reasons for C-sections range from life-threatening emergencies to simple convenience to threats of malpractice. Doctors agree that, when indicated because of complications involving either mother or baby, C-sections can save lives. And in the face of those who may demand the procedure and threaten malpractice suits if a vaginal birth goes wrong, the surgery may also save them time with their lawyers. Still, the major abdominal surgery has risks, including rare cases of death, infection, excessive bleeding, reactions to medications, and injury to the baby. Many doctors and professional organizations worry that rising cesarean rates indicate too much of a good thing.

Informed Choices

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises that doctors and patients carefully weigh the benefits and risks associated with both cesarean and vaginal deliveries on a case-by-case basis. The earlier pregnant women begin conversations with their doctors about their delivery options, the better.

ACOG advises women to speak frankly with their doctors and ask plenty of questions, such as:

Even if you had a C-section in the past that does not necessarily mean that you will have to have another C-section. In some cases, a vaginal birth after cesarean delivery (VBAC) can be a safe choice. By talking with your doctor, you can learn more about delivery options and make a birth plan that is right for you and your baby.


Childbirth Connection

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists


The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada

Women's Health Matters


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Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 2/25/2016