I’m a veteran of two c-section births and a staunch opponent of the sanctimommy attitude that it’s somehow the worst thing ever. That said, even I was shocked by this news: The US c-section rate has now topped 32 percent. That means one out of every three children in the United States is born that way — or was in 2007, the last for which figures were available.
That sobering statistic comes from a National Center for Health Statistics report released yesterday. While the 32-percent mark is a new record, its almost certain to be wiped out next year because the rate’s been climbing steadily since 1996, setting new records annually.
As Dr. George Macones, a spokesman for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, told the New York Times, “What we’re worried about is, the Caesarean section rate is going up, but we’re not improving the health of babies being delivered or of moms.”
Doctors are becoming increasingly concerned about the cause of these rising c-section rates. One is the threat of litigation — I once read a quote from a doctor that said it’s much easier to justify doing a c-section than not doing one if something goes wrong. Another is that many hospitals have a ban on vaginal births after c-sections, known as VBAC, so if a woman has one c-section she’s likely to have to have one in subsequent pregnancies. A consensus panel of the NIH recently called for lifting that ban.
No one knows what an “ideal” c-section rate would be, but the World Health Organization has suggested it would be around 15 percent. Many countries have c-section rates even higher than the US, heading toward 50 percent in Puerto Rico and China.
In any case, it would be hard to find anyone who doesn’t think the c-section rate is too high. As the New York Times story notes, it’s difficult to imagine that one out of three women need surgical help to give birth.
For more information, the report is here.