Once viewed as a last resort, Cesarean-section rates are on the rise. With 32% of babies delivered by C-section in 2007, it is now the most common form of surgery in the United States. However, the World Health Organization recommends a Cesarean-section rate of 5% to 10%, as rates above 15% have shown to do more harm than good. These statistics leave many wondering why these rates have skyrocketed and if there’s a way to lower the chance of having a C-section.
As places like Washington, D.C., are reforming laws to allow a person to sue a doctor 21 years after birth, the threat of litigation has become a powerful reason why C-sections are so often performed. Dr. Constance Bohon, an obstetrician and gynecologist, observes that there is too much dependence on fetal heart monitors and intervention during labor; and when abnormalities are spotted, C-sections are performed to avoid litigation.
He goes on to explain, “We try to say, ‘Oh, here’s where the problem was with the baby, and that’s where you should have done a Cesarean.’ But it’s very, very difficult to say that the same kind of fetal heart-rate pattern in such and such a person will give you the same outcome in another.”
For many, knowing the day and time a baby will arrive is convenient in the busy world we live in. Others may opt for elective C-sections because they fear childbirth, urinary incontinence and/or the risk of sexual dysfunction after a vaginal birth. However, many women schedule a Cesarean section with limited awareness to the potential risks.
C-sections are considered a major surgical procedure, and can have more potential for harm to mothers and babies when compared to a vaginal delivery. These risks include infection, blood clots, unintended surgical cuts, emergency hysterectomies, ongoing pelvic pain, infertility, respiratory distress in babies and fewer opportunities for bonding immediately after birth.
Harvard Magazine notes one possible reason for the climbing number of C-sections: a shift in the age and health level of women getting pregnant. In the last decade, older and heavier women are getting pregnant, and statistically, older and heavier women ultimately have Cesarean sections.
While there are instances when a C-section is ideal for the health of the mother and her baby, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that 85% of women in the United States have a healthy pregnancy and reach full term. This is a statistic that many midwives believe is ignored because of the “atmosphere of fear” that drives many C-sections. Midwifery services are available for those who prefer to optimize their chances of delivering nonsurgically, as midwives are invested in vaginal deliveries for healthy mothers and babies.