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

Guidelines discouraging early elective deliveries may have helped

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 27 (HealthDay News) -- Cesarean deliveries in the United States have leveled off for the first time in 12 years, although they still account for almost one-third of live births, U.S. health officials report.

"It's about time," said Dr. Mitchell Maiman, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in the report.

The trend toward C-sections, which increased 60 percent between 1996 and 2009, was worrisome, he said. "It was bad for mothers and babies, and now finally it seems we have been able to halt it or maybe even reverse it a tiny bit," Maiman said.

"But we have a long way to go because the C-section rate is way higher than it should be," he added.

After rising from 21 percent of births in 1996 to about 33 percent in 2009, the 2011 rate held steady at about 31 percent, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other medical groups have helped to curb elective surgical deliveries, Maiman said. Those guidelines discourage cesarean delivery before 39 weeks without a medical indication.

Staten Island University Hospital has followed such guidelines for more than 15 years, Maiman said. The C-section rate there is about 22 percent, well below the national average.

Some obstetricians welcomed the new findings. "It's great that the overall C-section rate has remained flat," said Dr. Jeffrey Ecker, director of obstetrical clinical research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

"It has been difficult to demonstrate that the rise of the C-section rate over the past decade has been associated with any meaningful improvement in babies' or mothers' health," said Ecker, who is also chair of ACOG's committee on obstetric practice.

Ecker would prefer to see even fewer cesarean deliveries, but "there is no perfect rate," he said. However, "there are opportunities to move the rate down safely," he added.

The report, based on information from the Natality Data File from the National Vital Statistics System, found that the decline wasn't uniform.

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