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C-Section Rates Are at All-Time High

U.S. Has About 1.4 Million Cesarean Births Each Year
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 23, 2010 -- Cesarean deliveries have reached an all-time high in the U.S., with nearly one in three babies now delivered by C-section compared to one in five just a decade ago, new government figures reveal.

Roughly 1.4 million newborns were delivered surgically in 2007 -- a 53% increase from the mid-1990s, when rates started to climb after remaining steady for several years.

Rates rose for both older and younger mothers across all racial groups and all regions of the U.S., making cesarean delivery the most commonly performed surgery in the nation.

The C-section rate increased by annually between 1996 and 2007, from a low of 21% to 32%.

"Every state has seen an increase in cesarean sections over the last decade and rates continue to climb," National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) statistician Fay Menacker, DrPH, tells WebMD.

The new figures were published today by the NCHS, which is a division of the CDC.

Vaginal Birth After Cesarean

The NCHS report did not address the reasons for the decade-long rise in C-section deliveries, but an expert panel convened by the National Institutes of Health weighed in on the issue a few weeks ago.

The panel looked at why so few women in the U.S. who have had C-sections are having nonsurgical deliveries for subsequent births.

The practice, known as vaginal birth after cesarean, or VBAC, was common in the mid-1990s. But today, fewer than one in 10 women who have had a previous C-section attempt labor.

Studies suggest that 75% of women who labor with a pregnancy that follows a C-section delivery successfully have a vaginal birth, and outcomes are also good in the vast majority of cases where VBACs are unsuccessful and surgical delivery is required.

But in slightly less than 1% of cases, VBACs lead to uterine rupture, a potentially catastrophic complication for both mother and baby, panel chairman F. Gary Cunningham, MD, tells WebMD.

Several leading medical groups now call for a surgeon and anesthesiologist to be available when a woman who has had a previous C-section attempts labor, and this guideline has led many hospitals to stop offering VBACs, he says.

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