More babies are being born via Cesarean section now than ever. The number's jumped from an estimated 16 million births in 2000 (just over 12% of all births) up to nearly double that amount in 2015 at 29.7 million (over 21% of all births) and in the US the c-section rate is over 31.9%, very little standard of care and I dare to say an absolutely EPIDEMIC for post natal care in the United States, but that's for another day.
C-sections: What's driving such a rising surgical trend—a trend which now sees over 1 in 5 babies delivered via C-section worldwide, and about 1 in 3 in the US alone? 1 in 3!!! With NO STANDARD OF CARE post surgery for them besides rest. And we all know that's not even possible with a newborn. Ok sorry, back to my point:
The Double Edge Sword of C-Sections:
In a recent 2018 series of papers published in The Lancet, a team of researchers reported that births via Cesarean section were performed five times more often among the richest populations in low- and middle-income countries compared to the poorest populations.
The overall consensus? Cesarean sections are performed way too often. This is especially true in middle- and higher-income countries. And if this trend continues, more and more women and their kiddos are going to be unnecessarily subjected to the associated risks of this kind of major surgery:
- To the moms: increased risk of bleeding, prolonged recovery time, infection, blood clots, additional complications in future pregnancies, surgical injury, increased medical costs, mental health concerns, and maternal death
- To the kiddos: increased risk of respiratory problems and surgical injury, impaired (possible) gut health.
But hold up—let's be real clear about something:
C-sections can and do save lives. When complications are involved—like maternal health problems, breeched babies, placenta previa, atypical bleeding, and fetal distress—a Cesarean delivery can literally mean the difference between life and death. I should know I experienced it myself.
But the thing is, C-sections are medically required in only around 19% of births. And wouldn't you know, of the 169 countries assessed in The Lancet papers, 60% of them reported C-sections performed at a rate exceeding the recommended level.
As for the US specifically, more than half of the C-sections performed in this country aren't medically necessary, and instead performed on low-risk, uncomplicated births.
So we know that half of US sections are not needed. So, surgery when it's not necessary...hmmm. What the heck is going on?
The Business of Birth
I'm sure lots of you have heard it before. A resounding theory, as simple as it is frustrating, is that hospitals are just plain busy.
Think about it: If a woman's working her butt off but her labor is taking a super long time, doctors may push a C-section on her simply to get her out the door faster. Yeah, this is a bit tongue and cheek, but experts agree it's not beyond the realm of possibility.
Plus, this theory is pretty consistent with research suggesting that most women still prefer vaginal deliveries and that C-section rates vary significantly from hospital to hospital, even within the same geographic areas.
In other words, it may not be that women are asking for C-sections more often.
Maybe it's that not enough of us are being fully educated about our options, and are just trying do the right thing by following doctor's orders without evaluating whether these surgeries are actually warranted.
When Technology Turns:
Another theory for the rising prevalence of C-sections points to advances in technology.
With the ability to monitor a fetus's heart rates with extreme accuracy, for instance, a doctor may jump the gun on a C-section delivery even if the baby isn't in genuine distress.
Yes, the intent may be good here, but we need to remember something:
C-sections are surgery, surgery is trauma.
Any exposure to surgical trauma should be considered carefully—especially if the exposure is elective, as it seems to be for an increasing number of moms-to-be.
The Mother's Mindset
In addition to overworked hospital staffs and uber-innovative technology, there could be another factor driving the increasing Cesarean rates:
A lot of us are too quick to believe we need them—even without medical necessity, and even if we still overwhelmingly want a vaginal birth. (This is an intuitive theory. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts).
As women, maybe we're not as grounded in ourselves these days. Maybe we're a bit out of touch with what our bodies are actually capable of doing.
After all, going to the hospital to have a baby sure feels like a medical procedure—maybe this makes it too easy to overlook the fact that pregnancy and giving birth are sacred acts, and a deeply inherent part about being a woman.
Plus, a lot of women may be quick to agree to the C-section their doctor is advising because they're simply fearful about the birthing process.
This is completely understandable, for what it's worth. But the remedy for fear?
Women can empower themselves with more knowledge about their bodies, their pregnancies, their risk factors, and their deliveries.
Hopefully then, less of us will have to expose ourselves and our children to potentially life-changing consequences.
First, having a C-section is straight up nothing to feel ashamed about (hello I had two!). You're still giving birth, which is badass and awesome. Never let yourself or anyone put you down for not doing it the way you "should."
Next, the risk/benefit ratio of a C-section needs to be closely and clearly evaluated on an individual basis, with mom, dad, and medical team all working together to determine when and if surgery is truly appropriate.
Lastly, and as far as the medical community is concerned, a C-section confers NO benefits to mom or baby when it's performed without medical necessity. In fact, it sets up Mom for a long, hard, expensive road ahead to be able to fully heal from this inside and out.
And the truth is, these days the majority of pregnancies and births are safe and uncomplicated—especially if the mother empowers herself by taking proactive measures to maximize her pre-conception and prenatal health.
So if your doctor brings up a C-section, ask questions—that's your right.
And before it even comes to the day you take that adorable little bun out of the oven, do what you can to optimize your health and your pregnancy so you'll be more likely to have a successful labor and delivery.
You and your little one deserve the best you got.
What do you think? We'd love to hear. Sound off in the comments below.
If you've had a c-section and don't know how to start your recovery journey, check out the Nancy Anderson Fit C-Section Recovery Plan. With the tools, techniques, and exercises that you'll learn about in this plan, you'll be well on your way to the body you want and DESERVE, along with what I hope will be a much greater peace of mind!