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C-section rate falls for the first time in 15 years

November 17, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • C-section births declined last year for the first time in more than a decade.
C-section births declined last year for the first time in more than a decade. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles…)

The steep and steady increase in Cesarean section childbirth finally may have peaked.

According to preliminary government data released Thursday, C-section deliveries were down slightly in 2010 -- from 32.8% of all deliveries compared to 32.9% in 2010. The rising C-section birth trend has been roundly criticized because many surgical deliveries are not performed for medical reasons, according to numerous studies. The nation's C-section rate in 1970 was only 5%.

Such deliveries cost more and increase the risk of problems in the mother and baby. But over the last two decades, doctors have often permitted a "patient-choice" C-section, which allows women to avoid labor. Doctors have also been reluctant to allow vaginal birth in a patient with a prior C-section because of fears of being sued due to a bad outcome.

However, the increase in the C-section rate has slowed over the last few years, and 2010 marks the first dip. Recently, doctors have been pressured to reconsider performing C-sections for non-medical reasons. Moreover, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists last year issued a position paper saying that most women can safely attempt a vaginal birth after a C-section.

The 2010 preliminary birth data was released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also in the report:

  • Teen birth rates continue to decline and reached the lowest level in seven decades: 34.3 births per 1,000 teenagers ages 15 to 19. That is a whopping 9% decline from 2007.
  • The U.S. fertility rate continues to decline, perhaps due to the long economic recession. Fertility rates have fallen three straight years. Births to unmarried women fell and births to women ages 20 to 24 dropped 6% in 2010.
  • The birth rate for women in their early 40s rose and is the highest since 1967: 10.2 per 1,000 women.
  • The preterm birth rate continues to fall and now stands at just under 12%. Similar to the C-section trend, medical professional groups are making a huge effort to bring babies to full term, including attempts to stop medically unnecessary induced labor before 39 weeks of gestation. The preterm birth rate has declined 6% from 2006.

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