Thirty two percent—or as many as one in three—women in the US will deliver by Cesarean section, a new record high that makes the procedure the most commonly performed operation in American hospitals, according to a report released March 23, 2010, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As highlighted by CDC researchers, rates have steadily risen each year since the mid-1990s, with approximately 1.4 million C-sections performed in 2007, the last year birth statistics were available for the study.
When it's needed, a Cesarean can save a mother and child from birth-related injury or even death. But according to a New York Times article on the report, most medical experts doubt that one in three women needs surgery in order to successfully give birth. Critics say the operation is being performed too often (and many times for dubious medical reasons), needlessly exposing women and babies to the risks associated with major surgery.
The continuing rise in C-sections "is not going to be good for anybody," says Dr. George A. Macones, the chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis and a spokesman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in an interview with the Times. "What we're worried about is, the Cesarean section rate is going up, but we're not improving the health of babies being delivered or of moms."
Health risks for women as the result of a Cesarean birth include surgical complications and uterine rupture and placenta problems in future pregnancies. Babies born by Cesarean are more likely to end up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the study notes.
In a state-by-state breakdown, the highest rates for Cesarean delivery were observed in New Jersey (38.3 percent) and Florida (37.2 percent), and the lowest in Utah (22.2 percent) and Alaska (22.6 percent). Women of all ages and across all racial and ethnic groups saw a rise in Cesarean births.
What could possibly be causing this spike? An increased number of multiple births, for one thing (multiples are more likely to require a Cesarean for a safe delivery), but experts point to rising numbers of elective C-sections and even physician fear of lawsuits as the real culprits behind these record rates. "The threshold for doing a Cesarean section is going down, and one of the major factors is professional liability, ending up in court," Dr. Macones says in the New York Times piece.