Friday, June 13, 2008

Could C-sections Be Increasing Maternal Mortality?

The adage “healthy baby, healthy mother” is touted by people everywhere. One half of that equation – the mother – must provide care for herself and her newborn for at least a couple of decades. However, we have seen a rise in the maternal mortality rates here in this country. In 2003 and 2004, the maternal mortality rates rose to 12 per 100,000 and 13 per 100,000 respectively ( To make that easier to understand, 1 in 7692.31 women will die during childbirth or the six week post-partum period. The United States of America boasts advanced technology, state-of-the-art gadgets, and renowned research facilities. Why then are we experiencing a surge in what was once thought of as a third-world country issue? Perhaps we need to look no further than the rising c-section rates.

The CDC statistics have shown a continued increase in the c-section rates here in this country to the tune of 50% in the last ten years ( The truth is that 1 out of every 3 pregnant women will undergo a c-section. A c-section is a major abdominal surgery that carries the same risks as any other abdominal surgery, yet women are increasingly being convinced of all the benefits involved in a c-section. “You won’t have bladder dysfunction.” “You’ll avoid vaginal tearing.” “You can schedule your baby’s birthday!” All of these so-called benefits are given much more emphasis than the risks: injury to intestines or bladder (still think you can avoid that bladder dysfunction?), injury to the baby, post-partum hemorrhage, infertility, death. In fact, women are 3 times more likely to die during a c-section than a vaginal birth according to a large study published in the Lancet (, Lancet, 1999; 354: 776). I would like to assert the clear correlation between the rising c-section and maternal mortality rates and make the case women everywhere to be on high alert.

Let’s examine some probable causes as to how the c-section rate is affecting the maternal mortality rate. In the United States, we have seen a rise in obesity, which seemingly sets up pregnant women for a c-section. Speculation and early research claims obese women have weaker contractions due to obesity-related health problems ( “Fetal distress” may also be cited as a reason for c-section in obese women when, in fact, the monitors are simply not working through the mother’s fat tissues. Another cause of the rising c-section rate is the increasing number of older first-time mothers. It would seem that many women delay having families in order to complete higher education and start careers. Older women are much more likely to end up with a c-section regardless of whether they are high risk or low risk ( Furthermore, hemorrhage and sepsis are the leading causes of maternal mortality throughout the world – both of which are risk factors in c-sections ( While we could discuss all of these causes in further depth, I trust that my assertation that the rising c-section rate is increasing the maternal mortality rate has been made clear.

I’m a believer in the saying that “prevention is the best medicine,” and I would like to further assert that simple preventative measures can both lower the c-section rates and the maternal mortality rates. First of all, I suggest every single pregnant woman learn as much as she can about the pros and cons of c-sections and other medical interventions. Perhaps with more knowledge, women wouldn’t be so apt to choose an elective c-section. Secondly, eat a healthy, balanced diet and get plenty of exercise. No one can go wrong with that recommendation, whether young, old, male, female, white, black, green, or polka-dotted. Thirdly, seek consultation from a midwife. Midwives have lower rates of c-sections and can provide excellent prenatal care for most pregnant women. Finally, know your rights as a patient and exercise your right to refuse treatments. If no medical indications show a necessity for c-section, simply repeat these words: “I do not consent.” Your doctor may not like hearing those words, but it is his or her responsibility to respect your wishes as his or her patient. You are the boss, you are paying them for their services, and you certainly wouldn’t take insubordination from an employee.