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Are Cesarean Births Driven By Medical Needs?

The World Health Organization suggests that the optimal rate for Cesarean section births is somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. At the turn of the century, the rate of C-section births began to rise sharply. By 2009, almost one-third of the babies born in this country came by Cesarean section. The number has declined slightly since then. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 32.8 percent of deliveries came by Cesarean in 2012. A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota suggests that Cesarean rates are the result of hospital culture, rather than the medical needs of the mother or infant.

A Cesarean section is a major surgical procedure. Mothers who undergo this procedure face increased risk of organ damage, blood loss, infection and other complications. The infant mortality rate in cases of C-section is double the rate suffered in vaginal births. There are risk factors that greatly influence whether a woman is likely to have a Cesarean, including whether the woman is suffering from hypertension or diabetes. When the study controlled for those factors, however, it still found that hospitals varied widely in Cesarean rates. 

The study analyzed various hospitals, looking for a connection among those with higher rates of Cesarean. They concluded that hospital size and location did not explain the differing rates. Further study is necessary to determine why some hospitals recommend C-sections in more than one-third of cases, while others maintain rates closer to 10 percent.

Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, "UMN study: Hospital culture may explain cesarean birth rates," by Maja Beckstrom, 22 October 2014 

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