U.S. C-Section Rate Is Double What WHO Recommends

Pregnant American women give birth via caesarean section at more than double the rate the World Health Organization recommends.

Outcomes for both mother and baby improve as a country’s rate of caesarean sections tops 10 percent, according to a WHO report released Friday. But there’s no evidence that health care quality continues to improve once a country’s rate exceeds 15 percent, WHO said.

The rate of caesarean section births in the U.S. was 32.7 percent in 2013 — well above the “medically necessary” target of 10 percent to 15 percent that WHO says is ideal. Germany and Italy have similarly high rates — 32 percent and 38 percent, respectively — while low-income countries like Afghanistan and Kenya hadn’t yet reached 10 percent, according to data from 2011. Brazil, notorious for high caesarean rates, tops the list at 52 percent.

Caesarean births, or c-sections, are an abdominal surgery in which doctors slice through skin, the abdominal wall, muscle and the uterus to delivery a baby. When they’re medically necessary, c-sections can help save the life of mother and child during complications, like breech birth and umbilical cord prolapse (when the cord slips into the vagina). In addition, the baby may be too big to safely pass through the birth canal, or the baby could be in distress.

Medically unnecessary reasons for a c-section include planning a due date around work or travel plans, or even a doctor’s schedule — in effect transforming a notoriously inefficient process (healthy labor can take up to 24 hours to delivery a baby) to an operation of less than two hours.

Like any other major surgery, c-sections can have complications, like damage to other organs, internal bleeding, blood clots or infection. Recovery after a c-section is typically longer than that —> Read More