Skip to content

    Health & Pregnancy

    Font Size

    C-Section Rates: Obesity to Blame?

    Patient Requests May Not Be Major Factor in Growing Number of C-Sections
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    May 9, 2006 (Washington) -- Contrary to what many believe, patient requests are probably not the main driving force behind the increasing rates of cesarean births in the U.S., doctors say.

    Rather, obesity is probably to blame for much of the rise, says Frederic Frigoletto Jr., MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

    The doctors acknowledge that some pregnant women ask their doctors for C-sections because of the increased convenience of choosing the time of delivery and because of a desire for less painful childbirth.

    A National Institutes of Health task force found some increase in patients' requests. "But it certainly didn't account for the sharp increase in cesarean deliveries," says Mary D'Alton, MD, chairwoman of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

    Frigoletto says his research suggests that the increase in cesarean deliveries coincides with the epidemic of obesity in this country.

    Obese women are at risk for pregnancy-related complications, including hypertension, gestational diabetes, and blood clots, all of which may lead to a recommendation for cesarean delivery, he says.

    The experts discussed the rising C-section rates at a news conference at the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

    C-Sections at All-Time High

    By 2004, the number of C-sections had reached an all-time high, accounting for 29% of all births -- or 1 million babies -- according to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

    That's in contrast to a 5% rate after World War II, a number that remained relatively stable until it skyrocketed to 15% in the 1970s.

    C-sections continued to gain popularity until the early 1990s, by which time 22% of babies were delivered by cesarean.

    Then reports that women who had undergone a first cesarean delivery might not need a cesarean the next time around led the rate to fall back to below 20%.

    But this was soon proven false "with studies in the mid-1990s indicating that attempts for a vaginal delivery after a cesarean was dangerous for the mother," says Stanley Zinberg, MD, deputy executive vice president of ACOG. And so the number rose again.

    Pregnancy Week-By-Week Newsletter

    Delivered right to your inbox, get pictures and facts on
    what to expect each week of your pregnancy.

    Today on WebMD

    hand circling date on calendar
    Track your most fertile days.
    woman looking at ultrasound
    Week-by-week pregnancy guide.
    Pretty pregnant woman timing contaction pains
    The signs to watch out for.
    pregnant woman in hospital
    Are there ways to do it naturally?
    slideshow fetal development
    pregnancy first trimester warning signs
    What Causes Bipolar
    Woman trying on dress in store
    pregnant woman
    Woman looking at pregnancy test
    calendar and baby buggy
    dark chocolate squares