A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the overall rate of Cesarean section (C-section) births has stopped increasing and has been steady from 2009 to 2011.

C-section is a surgical procedure in which a baby is delivered through the mother’s abdomen, the surgery usually takes about 30 – 45 minutes. Although C-section is relatively safe, it can pose some health risks for the mother and the baby.

The rates of cesarean section procedures shot up between 1996 and 2009, from 20.7% of all births in 1996 to 32.9% in 2009. Approximately 1.67 million women undergo the procedure every year in the USA.

Major advances in technology made the procedure safer and more convenient for many mothers.

However, recently the the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists updated clinical guidelines to reduce the rate of nonmedically-indicated cesarean deliveries prior to 39 weeks, because of increased risk of complications and death for the newborn associated with delivery before 39 weeks.

Research presented at the 32nd Annual Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine Meeting, “The Pregnancy Meeting” suggested that babies delivered early by c-section have higher rates of respiratory distress syndrome than preterm babies born vaginally.

For the first time over the past decade cesarean delivery rates remained steady. Between 2009 and 2011 the rate of c-sections stayed at around 31 percent.

The authors informed that there was a drop of four percent in cesarean sections for babies born between 37 and 38 weeks and an increase of three percent in C-sections for full term babies, between 39-40 weeks.

The authors concluded that the shift toward longer pregnancies is “consistent with efforts to reduce nonmedically indicated deliveries for nulliparous, vertex (head first), singleton deliveries before 39 completed weeks of gestation because of the greater risk of poor outcomes for earlier gestations”

These efforts mainly focus on induction of labor, but “may have a direct effect on cesarean delivery; women who have been induced are nearly twice as likely to be delivered by cesarean as women with noninduced, spontaneous labor. Future research will identify the broader impact of this change on maternal and infant health outcomes.”

US Navy nurse prepares a mom for a C-section
A surgeon performing a Caesarean section surgery.

A study in the U.K which included over 10,000 children revealed that babies who are born by C-section are at a much higher risk of becoming obese when they grow up compared to babies born vaginally.

Babies who are born by c-section are also five times more likely to develop allergies by the age of two, compared to those who are born naturally, according to a study conducted at the Henry Ford Hospital. This coincided with a different study that revealed C-section babies are more likely to develop asthma.

Swedish researchers published findings in the journal Acta Paediatrica showing evidence to suggest that C-section babies experience changes to the DNA pool in their white blood cells, which increase their odds for developing diseases in later life.

In addition, a group of Canadian researchers found that C-section babies lack a specific group of bacteria found in infants delivered vaginally, even if they were breastfed. The bacteria they lack are necessary for digesting food, stimulating the development of the immune system, regulating the bowels and protecting against infection.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist