Cesarean section rates are still on the rise in the US, according to the latest Annual Summary of Vital Statistics, a yearly round up of birth statistics nationwide. Published in the January 2011 issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the report showed that C-section rates rose to nearly a third of all births in 2008 (the most recent year for available statistics), marking the 12th consecutive increase. The Cesarean rate in the US now stands at 32 percent. Broken down by race and ethnicity, the report showed that black moms had the highest overall rate of any group at 34 percent; rates among Hispanic moms were 31 percent, slightly below the national average.
Compiled by scientists from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, other highlights of this year's report include:
- Births to teens decreased 2 percent, in contrast to increased rates in 2006 and 2007.
- Birth rates decreased for women aged 20 to 39, and increased for women aged 40 to 49. The 1 percent decline in the 35 to 39 age group was the first since 1978.
- In 2008, there were 4,251,095 births in 2008, about 2 percent fewer than in 2007 (2007 saw the highest number of births ever in the US).
For babies, the report turned up some good news: preterm births dropped 3 percent from 2007, dipping to 12.3 of all births in 2008 (though low birth weight rates remained the same). And your baby will likely have a long life ahead of him or her: the average life expectancy at birth for a baby born in the US is now 77.8 years.
Why is the Cesarean rate so high in the US? It could be due to the obesity epidemic—as a group, heavier moms-to-be are at greater risk for both gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, two pregnancy complications that up the risk a surgical delivery will be necessary for health reasons. Natural birth advocates point to over-cautious doctors who err on the side of Cesareans, even when health problems aren't present. The practice of scheduling C-sections for healthy moms who are just "too posh to push" also seem to factor into these increasing numbers.
But even though they may share some of the blame for sky-high C-section rates, many doctors express frustrations over the latest stats. "I personally don't think it's a good thing," says George Macones, vice chairman of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and an obstetrician at Washington University in St. Louis, in an interview with Time magazine. "The rate is going up but we are not really improving the health of babies or moms."