Every day, roughly 10,000 babies are born in the United States, and about a third of them are born via Cesarean section. This share has gone up significantly over time, and many in the scientific community believe that it’s higher than is necessary. Increases in C-section rates have not translated to healthier moms or babies. Although it’s impossible to know the “necessary” rate with real precision, the World Health Organization says it is closer to 10 or 15 percent.
Why do doctors perform so many unnecessary (or “non-indicated,” in the medical vernacular) C-sections?
This is a question both patients and doctors worry over, with an answer that is by no means straightforward. But here’s a data point to consider: While most people agree that what matters most is that mother and baby come through the process safely, doctors are generally paid quite a bit more for a C-section than for a vaginal birth. This financial nudge might just have something to do with the rate of non-indicated C-sections in the U.S.
Cesarean sections are lifesaving if you need them. In some situations, a C-section is not only preferable but mandatory—situations involving conditions like placenta previa, in which going into labor would precipitate life-threatening hemorrhaging, or cord prolapse, which can cause the death of a baby if a C-section is not performed in a manner of minutes. But in most instances, the surgery is not the preferred mode of delivery. Evidence and expert consensus are consistent on the message that C-sections, on average, come with greater risks than vaginal births: more blood loss, more chance of infection or blood clots, more complications in future pregnancies, a higher risk of death. Even if serious complications don’t occur, C-section recovery tends to be longer and harder.