Cesarean sections, commonly known as C-sections, are a surgical procedure that allows a woman to give birth through an incision to her abdomen and uterus. They are a critical part of modern obstetrics, accounting for about 32 percent of births in the U.S.
While a significant medical advancement, this surgical procedure can be complex and traumatic for many parents. This article delves into 30 essential C-section statistics and facts, exploring global rates, reasons, risks, and the nuances between emergency and elective procedures.
We aim to provide you with a comprehensive understanding, ensuring you and your child’s best interests are informed and protected.
Key Statistics About C-Sections
Here are five quick and interesting statistics about c-sections:
- About 65 percent of women worldwide use contraception.
- Ninety percent of women between 18 and 64 have used birth control at some point in life.
- Long-acting reversible contraceptives, including the coil and implant, are some of the most effective.
- Birth control access before 21 years old is the most influential factor in enabling a woman to stay in college.
- One in every 200 women who have a tubal ligation still gets pregnant.
C-Section Vs. Natural Birth Process
Many people categorize the methods of giving birth as either a natural birth process or a c-section. But a better way to phrase it would be a vaginal birth or a c-section since a natural birth doesn’t always include vaginal births initiated by induction.
A vaginal birth is when the baby is delivered via the vagina. In some cases, this can occur naturally. The woman’s body goes into labor naturally, and she doesn’t need any medications to spur her along.
In other cases, a vaginal birth may be initiated via an induction. This might be necessary if the baby is overdue, for medical reasons, or if labor isn’t progressing.
A vaginal delivery also includes babies that are born with the help of forceps or a vacuum. A natural birth, on the other hand, suggests the labor started naturally, the mother didn’t take any medications (including pain relief), and there were no medical interventions to help with delivery.
A c-section, on the other hand, involves delivering the baby through an incision in the abdomen and uterus. The incision is made either vertically or horizontally. The mother will get an anesthetic so she doesn’t feel any pain.
Once the uterus is open, the surgeon will rupture the amniotic sac and deliver the baby. The whole procedure can be as quick as five minutes, not including stitches and recovery.
While many c-sections are elective, they are often medically necessary when there are risks to the mother’s or baby’s life.
While a c-section can often seem like a daunting procedure, there are many benefits as well as risks. Here are the important ones outlined below:
- It allows parents to plan: Parents can opt for an elective c-section, which allows families to plan for the birth.
- They save lives: If the baby or mother is in danger, a c-section can save their lives.
- Less-painful procedure: The procedure itself can be less painful than vaginal birth since you get anesthesia, and you shouldn’t be able to feel it.
- No injury to the vagina: A c-section means no tears and lacerations to the vagina.
- Wound infection: You will need to go on antibiotics to prevent the risk of infection to the wound or womb.
- Longer and potentially more painful recovery: Some women experience a longer and more painful recovery period following a c-section.
- Longer hospital stay: Mothers who have had a c-section will need to stay in hospital longer than those who had a vaginal delivery.
- Reaction to the surgical medications: Some women have adverse reactions to the medication given at the time of surgery, including nausea, complete numbness, shivering, and breathlessness.
- Delayed onset of milk: It can be harder to initiate breastfeeding after a c-section as milk might be delayed by a few days.
30 C-Section Statistics and Facts
Whether you’re considering a c-section, have already had one, or are simply curious, we have 30 cesarean-section birth statistics and facts to share.
C-Section Rates Across the World
Explore how C-section rates vary by country, uncovering intriguing patterns and differences in national healthcare practice.
- Thirty-two percent in the US: In the U.S., 32.1 percent of live births were delivered via c-section (1). This was a one percent increase from 2020. Women over the age of 40 were twice as likely to deliver via c-section than women under the age of 20 (2).
- Black women are most likely to have a cesarean: In the U.S., non-Hispanic Black women have the highest c-section rate at 36.8 percent.
- Canada c-section rates: The most recent official data from Canada says that 28 percent of deliveries were via c-section as of 2016 (3).
- England c-section rates: Each country in the U.K. releases its own c-section rates. In England, the 2019-2020 data showed 31 percent of births were cesarean (4). In Scotland, the rate was 34.5 percent; in Wales, the rate was 28 percent.
- Mexico c-section rates: Mexico has one of the highest rates of c-sections globally, at over 45 percent of births (5). This may be due to obstetric violence, a power imbalance between women and their healthcare providers, sexism, and hierarchies instigated by hospital staff.
- C-section rates in Nordic countries: The c-section rate in Denmark is 20.7 percent, Norway is 16.5 percent, and Sweden is 17.1 percent (6).
- Israel has one of the lowest c-section rates: Israel has an average of 154.3 c-sections per 1,000 births, making it one of the lowest rates in the world (7).
- Global c-section rates: Globally, 21 percent of all births are delivered via section (8). This is likely to increase, and it is predicted that about 29 percent of births will be c-sections by 2030.
Common Reasons For C-Sections
With the rates for c-sections increasing, it’s due to a mix of better medical knowledge and less advocacy for mothers. Some mothers are taken for an unnecessary c-section. I was almost taken for one!
However, in most cases, there is a valid reason for a c-section, and we’re going to highlight eight of these.
- The baby is breech: Many c-sections occur because the baby is in the breech position with the feet down and the head up. While some babies can be born vaginally, a c-section is generally safer.
- The mother has a history of uterus surgeries: If a mother has had surgeries to the uterus before, including a previous c-section, another c-section is the safest choice. Although, a vaginal birth after a cesarean (VBAC) is an option.
- Labor isn’t progressing: Sometimes, a woman goes into labor naturally, and it comes to a halt. If labor isn’t progressing, either during the first or second stage, a c-section may be necessary. But a woman should always ask, “What happens if we wait?” because sometimes things can pick back up again, especially if the mother is relaxed!
- Fetal distress: Your baby is monitored during birth. If your healthcare provider notices the baby is not getting enough oxygen and is becoming distressed, a C-section is recommended.
- Placenta previa: When the placenta lies low in the uterus or covers the cervix, a c-section is often necessary. If the mother has a marginal placenta previa, she may have the option to deliver vaginally.
- Infections, such as genital herpes: If a woman is diagnosed or infected with genital herpes in the final three months of pregnancy, a c-section is recommended. Between 30 to 50 percent of babies get the virus via vaginal birth, so a c-section is terrific for protecting the baby (9).
- The mother is expecting multiples: If the mother is pregnant with two or more babies, a c-section is generally preferred. However, if the twins are both head down and the mother agrees to an epidural, her medical team should be happy to attempt a vaginal birth (10). In the U.K., more than half of twins are delivered via c-section.
- Birth defects: If the fetus has been diagnosed with a congenital disability, such as heart disease, a cesarean section is safest (11).
Other reasons for a c-section include the mother having chronic health issues, placenta abruption, uterine abruption, cord prolapse, cephalopelvic disproportion, vaginal bleeding, large fibroids, and pelvic fractures. If you are wondering whether you’re eligible for a c-section, run it by your doctor or health care provider for advice.
Safety and Risks of C-Sections
C-sections, like natural births, have both safety points as well as risks. They have an amazing success rate but still have some unpleasant side effects.
Let’s look at a few reasons a mother might opt for a c-section for the safety of herself and child, and a few risks to be aware of.
- C-sections save babies in distress: Fetal distress occurs when the baby isn’t receiving enough oxygen via the placenta (12). The baby’s heart rate can slow down, beat in an unusual pattern, or speed up. Once your healthcare team has given you oxygen fluids and encouraged you to change position, they will decide if they need to help the birth along. In many cases, this can lead to an unplanned or emergency c-section, which can be life-saving for the baby.
- They’re a safe choice for women who are at risk: If the mother has problems with her placenta or she has a medical condition, such as a heart defect, a c-section can be safest for both her and the baby.
- C-sections may reduce the risk of unexplained stillbirth: C-sections may reduce the risk of unexplained or unexpected stillbirth, as well as chorioamnionitis and cord prolapse (13).
- Risk of wound infection: Surgical site infection has an incidence rate of up to 15 percent and is one of the most common complications of a c-section (14). This is associated with a maternal mortality rate of up to three percent.
- Longer recovery from c-section: Most women have to stay in the hospital a bit longer (around four days) after a c-section (15). The recovery, overall, can be longer than a vaginal birth. It can take around eight weeks to recover from a c-section, but most women we’ve spoken to describe long-term effects, such as tenderness, pain, and discomfort for months (16).
- Adverse reaction to general anesthetics: There are risks associated with anesthetics with c-sections. Women risk vomiting and aspirating on general anesthesia, though this is rare (17). Women who have had a spinal block may experience a sudden drop in blood pressure. They may also experience a post-dural puncture headache.
- C-section delays milk coming in: Forty-one percent of women who have had an emergency or unplanned c-section experienced breastfeeding difficulties, compared to 29 percent of women who delivered vaginally (18). These women were more likely to stop breastfeeding before 12 weeks postpartum, too. C-sections can delay the onset of milk and diminish milk supply, making breastfeeding harder.
Emergency Vs. Elective C-Sections
Let’s look at the differences between emergency versus elective c-sections: what that means, prevalence, and the reasons why.
- Emergency C-section definition: An emergency C-section often refers to unplanned C-sections. If a mother went into labor naturally, for example, but then needed a c-section, this is often called an emergency c-section. But many people opt to call these unplanned c-sections since they aren’t always dramatic. A true emergency c-section is when there is an immediate safety concern for the mother and/or baby, and an intervention needs to happen immediately (19). In many cases, the mother goes under general anesthesia for this.
- Elective c-section definition: An elective c-section is when the mother has decided to book ahead for her c-section. The appointment is usually before the baby is due, around 39 weeks. This is a common choice for women with placenta praevia, women expecting multiples, or women with other health issues, such as high blood pressure.
- Elective sections are common for mothers who have had one before: Mothers who have had a cesarean before often opt for a c-section again (20). This is the leading reason for c-sections. While a VBAC is an option, many mothers choose to book a c-section.
- Emergency C-sections are quick: The whole procedure for an emergency C-section is usually about an hour. The baby can be delivered within minutes once the mother is prepped.
- Percentage of planned c-sections: In the U.K., about 16 percent of births are via a planned c-section (21).
- Percentage of emergency c-sections: In the U.K., about 17 percent of births are via an emergency or unplanned c-section.
- More health risks in emergency versus elective c-sections: Women who have an emergency c-section are more likely to have a wound infection, hemorrhage, UTI, blood transfusion, or fever than those who have had an elective c-section (22).