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C-Sections in U.S. Stable After 12-Year Rise: CDC

Guidelines discouraging early elective deliveries may have helped
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At 38 weeks' gestation, the cesarean delivery rate decreased 5 percent -- a trend seen in 30 states. However, at 39 weeks -- full term -- it rose 4 percent. Thirty-eight weeks is considered early term.

Lead author Michelle Osterman, a health statistician at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, said it's not possible to pin down the reason for the increase at 39 weeks, which was noted in 23 states. Nor could she predict whether the numbers will continue to hold.

"You never know what's going to happen, and we don't make projections," she said. "But it's significant that [the rate of C-sections] hasn't increased in the past three years."

C-sections became more commonplace for several reasons, Maiman said. Some included convenience for doctors and patients who wanted to schedule a delivery and avoid potential complications of a vaginal delivery. Also, women were uninformed about the benefits of a vaginal delivery, he noted.

For mothers, more than one C-section significantly increases the risk of complications and death, Maiman said. Now, doctors may encourage women who have had a C-section to try a vaginal birth later.

For babies, the danger is the prematurity.

"Any prematurity, even slight prematurity, leads to increased complications for the baby," Maiman said. High rates of asthma and a risk for obesity are also associated with C-section births, he said.

According to the March of Dimes, elective C-sections likely contribute to the number of babies born "late preterm," between 34 and 36 weeks' gestation. Although these babies are usually considered healthy, they are more likely to have medical problems than babies born at full term.

Compared to a full-term baby, an infant born late preterm is more likely to have problems with breathing, feeding and maintaining body temperature, the March of Dimes states.

And a study published earlier this year by University of Michigan researchers found that birth at 39 to 41 weeks provides more developmental advantages compared to birth at 37 to 38 weeks.

"We need to leave mothers alone so that the infant can have a full-term delivery," Maiman said.

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