Caesarean section (C-section) use has almost doubled globally since 2000, prompting calls for governments to help reverse the “alarming” trend.
A series of studies published in the The Lancet shows that the proportion of babies born through the procedure globally each year has almost doubled to 21 per cent since the turn of the century.
In Australia, 33 per cent of about 300,000 babies were delivered through the surgery in 2014, well above the World Health Organization’s recommended rate of 10 to 15 per cent.
The procedure is used at a higher rate in wealthier regions and countries, while it remains inaccessible in poorer areas.
C-section is an intervention for women and newborns when complications occur, but the surgery is not without risk for mother and child, and is associated with complications in future births.
“Evidence is starting to suggest the lack of exposure to this can make long-term changes to a baby’s physiology, particularly around their intestinal, gut microbiome,” Co-Program Director, Maternal and Child Health, Professor Caroline Homer said.
“There appears to be problems around asthma and obesity but we need more research.”
The authors of the series of studies note that while many young physicians may become experts in C-section, they are losing confidence in their abilities to assist in vaginal birth.
In some regions caesarean sections are seen as precautionary and physicians are less likely to be sued if complications occur than during vaginal delivery.
Professor Homer highlights strategies from The Lancet research, which she has co-authored, that could assist in reducing the rate of caesarean section births, including:
Relaxation training, childbirth training workshops for women during pregnancy
Offering vaginal breech birth to carefully selected women, and supporting women to have a vaginal birth for women who have previously had C-sections
Midwifery continuity of care and continuous support in labour for all women.
Find out more about Burnet’s Maternal and Child Health program.