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Health & Pregnancy

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C-Section Rates Are at All-Time High

U.S. Has About 1.4 Million Cesarean Births Each Year

Vaginal Birth After Cesarean continued...

In recent surveys, about 30% of hospital administrators said their hospitals stopped performing VBACs because they could not comply with the guideline.

Uterine rupture often leads to fetal death or brain damage. When this happens, hospitals and ob-gyns are often sued and massive settlements are not uncommon.

"Their position is understandable. You can't make a hospital offer VBACs," Cunningham says. "But on the other hand, there is a growing voice out there of women who would like a trial of labor, but it is not available to them."

The panel concluded that VBAC is a safe alternative to C-section for most low-risk women who have had just one prior surgical birth, Cunningham says. Panel members also called for ob-gyns to discuss VBACs with appropriate patients and honor their patients' delivery preferences whenever possible.

Primary C-Sections on the Rise

Maureen Corry, who is executive director of the birth research and advocacy group Childbirth Connection, applauds the panel's action.

But she tells WebMD that lack of access to VBAC is just one of several factors driving the steady increase in C-section deliveries in the U.S.

"There has also been a big increase in the number of first-time cesarean sections over the last decade," she says.

Women who are older and those delivering more than one baby are more likely to have C-sections.

Corry says older maternal age and rising multiple birth rates may be factors in the rising rate of surgical deliveries, but they are not driving the trend.

Likewise, few women are demanding medically unnecessary surgical births, even though so-called "C-section on demand" has received much attention in the media, she says.

In a 2005 survey conducted for Childbirth Connection, just one in 1,600 women reported having a planned, first C-section for no medical reason at her own request.

Economics and litigation fears play a big part in this, she says. Surgical births are more lucrative for hospitals and doctors.

"From the doctor's point of view, a scheduled 45-minute surgery would have to be preferable to getting up in the middle of the night to attend to a woman who might labor for many hours," she says.

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