Rate of C-section Deliveries
Cesarean section, or c-section for short, is a way of safely delivering a fetus when something stands in the way of vaginal birth. A surgeon delivers the baby through an incision in the mother’s abdomen.
C-sections are lifesaving surgeries. If a doctor expects that something will go wrong with a delivery, he or she can plan on performing a c-section, preventing the mother and her child from entering a potentially deadly situation.
Additionally, emergency c-sections can be performed when complications arise unexpectedly. Performing a c-section in a timely manner can save a baby from suffering devastating brain injuries.
For more on the experience of having and recovering from a c-section, read our page on c-section scars.
C-sections are more common now than ever before. Nearly 30% of babies in the US are delivered by cesarean. This is not necessarily a good thing. It is estimated that only 10-15% of babies actually need to be delivered by cesarean.
Since c-sections are serious abdominal surgeries, these statistics should not be taken lightly. Cesarean sections leave scars and may result in longer healing times and bigger medical bills for new mothers. Surgery can increase the incidence of complications for mothers after they give birth, particularly for older or overweight women. And, there is an increased risk of serious complications in subsequent pregnancies after a woman has a c-section, necessitating additional c-sections and making getting pregnant again somewhat more dangerous.
When necessary, however, cesarean deliveries are important tools. They can circumvent scenarios that would otherwise kill or disable a baby. C-sections reduce the dangers associated with high-risk pregnancies. Planning a c-section provides much-needed security and support to high-risk mothers. Another factor to consider is that many mothers benefit when they feel they have choices in how their birth is managed.
Regardless of whether you want or need a cesarean section, it is useful to know the rate at which c-sections are performed in your state and around the world so you know what to expect.
Researchers and health organizations say that the medically necessary rate of cesarean section delivery in a population is 10-15% of births. Research has shown that increasing cesarean sections over 10% does not improve the rate of maternal or infant mortality.
The rate is now more like 20% worldwide. Latin and South America have the highest rate of c-section in the world, followed by North America—with countries having rates upwards of 40%. Africa has the lowest rate of c-section at about 5% of births, lower than what is medically necessary.
Within the United States, every state has a c-section rate above 20%. Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama have the highest rates—as many as 38% of births there are delivered via c-section. South Dakota, Idaho, Utah, and New Mexico have the lowest rates, with Utah as the lowest at 23%.
Some individual US counties, however, are outliers from these rates. For example, in Webb County, Texas, 49.4% of births between 2016-18 were c-sections. That’s half of all babies born in the county. To search the c-section rate in your county, click here.
The c-section rate is so locally specific due to the preferences of particular hospitals. Doctors can understandably be alarmed when labor is lasting a long time or when he or she sees slight abnormalities on a fetal heart monitor because this can indicate that the baby is in danger. It is easy to understand why doctors would err on the side of caution to prevent conditions like severe oxygen deprivation. To search for the self-reported c-section rate at your hospital, click here.
One way to reduce the likelihood of having a c-section if you have a low-risk pregnancy is to research your hospital in advance. However, many women cannot pick and choose what hospital they use to deliver. Other measures you can take include asking your doctor about his or her practices. Midwives, too, are useful to some women during the labor and delivery process. Inducing labor early and unnecessarily increases the risk of complications and therefore of needing a c-section.
Other women ask if they can elect to have a c-section even if not medically necessary. A small percentage of cesarean deliveries are performed on the mother’s request. It is well within your rights to request a c-section, but your doctor will not necessarily approve your request. There are often perfectly good reasons to elect for a c-section, for example, a history of sexual abuse that would make vaginal delivery traumatic.