Cesarean delivery is the most commonly performed surgical procedure in the United States. Cesarean delivery may be a safe alternative to vaginal delivery but its use in 1 of 3 women giving birth in the US seems too high.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 2017 Annual Meeting.
“About half the C-sections we do in the United States today are probably avoidable.” “According to our own guidelines, we shouldn’t be doing any C-sections on labor progress alone before 6 centimetres, if we just did that, it’s worth tens of thousands of C-sections per year.”
Rates in American hospitals for low-risk patients range from 2.4% to 36.5% (Health Aff [Millwood]. 2013;32:527-535)
In 2014, 1.3 million women in the United States delivered via cesarean, placing the rate at 32.2%, down just 0.7% from the peak in 2009.
In 2013-14, in the UK; 386,937 (60.9 per cent) of deliveries in NHS hospitals were spontaneous deliveries, while 166,081 (26.2 per cent) were caesarean deliveries.
In the 1950s, 3% of births in England were by CS. By the early 1980s this had risen to 10% and in the 1990s rates started to climb rapidly, from 12% in 1990 to 21% in 2001.
The cesarean rate has risen without improving maternal or neonatal outcomes.
One reason for increasing cesarean rates may be a rise in elective cesarean delivery, also known as cesarean delivery by maternal request (CDMR). estimated at 4% in the United States.
Physicians in one study reported that they were more likely to perform a cesarean if they had been sued recently or if they thought about being sued frequently. (Cheng YW, Snowden JM, Handler SJ, et al. Litigation in obstetrics: does defensive medicine contribute to increases in cesarean delivery? J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2014;27:1668–1675.)
Delayed admission to an active delivery unit in the latent phase of labor may reduce cesarean deliveries. (Tilden EL, Lee VR, Allen AJ, et al. Cost-effectiveness analysis of latent versus active labor hospital admission for medically low-risk, term women. Birth. 2015;42:219–226.)
The effect of cesarean delivery on future pregnancies should be considered when the first cesarean is being performed. Infants born to mothers who have had prior cesareans are at increased risk of stillbirth, and in cases of trial of labor after Caesarian, uterine rupture carries a risk to the neonate. For pregnancies complicated by abnormal placentation, delivery before term may be required.
Solheim KN, Esakoff TF, Little SE, et al. The effect of current cesarean delivery rates on the future incidence of placenta previa, placenta accreta, and maternal mortality. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2011;24:1341–1346.
Smith GC, Pell JP, Dobbie R. Caesarean section and risk of unexplained stillbirth in subsequent pregnancy. Lancet. 2003;362:1779–1784.
Fetal malpresentation, most commonly breech presentation at term, is seen in approximately 4% of pregnancies. Currently, the vast majority of such pregnancies are delivered via cesarean. When I first went to Canada I was amazed that a consultant obstetrician could not conduct a breech vaginal delivery, which had been common practice in England. Of course morbidity in untrained hands will be higher. The current primary approach to reducing cesareans in breech presentation is the use of external cephalic version (ECV). In general, ECV will be effective in approximately 70% of attempts and the majority of women with a successful ECV will go on to deliver vaginally. Finally, moxibustion (a Chinese medicine approach) has been shown to reduce breech presentation ( Cardini F, Weixin H. Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1998;280:1580–1584.)
A major management issue for patients in the second stage of labor is fetal malposition. Persistent fetal malposition particularly occiput transverse or occiput posterior position occurs in approximately 5% of fetuses and is associated with an increased risk of cesarean delivery and both maternal and neonatal complications. In such cases, rotation of the fetal head is useful. Historically, this was accomplished with forceps, particularly Kielland forceps but fewer Obstetricians are being trained to perform forceps rotations. I always found Kiellands to be a useful instrument but certainly not one for untrained hands, when used correctly and with gentleness they can achieve a controlled, atraumatic delivery.
Kielland’s forceps help to minimise the following risks that can occur with manual rotation:
• the baby rotating back to a malposition following manual rotation
• cord prolapse following disimpaction of the head
• complete disimpaction of the head out of the pelvis – too high for a safe forceps delivery.
(USA) In 1990 slightly more than 9% of livebirths resulted from either forceps delivery (5.11%) or vacuum extraction (3.9%), by 2014 only 3.21% of livebirths resulted from operative vaginal delivery and forceps accounted for less than 20% of these births (0.57% of all live births).
Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Osterman MJ, Curtin SC, Matthews TJ. Births: Final Data for 2014. Natl Vital Stat Rep. 2015 Dec;64(12):1-64.
Supportive evidence exists for intended vaginal delivery in a twin gestation if the presenting twin is cephalic. A randomized trial found no improvement in neonatal outcomes in planned cesarean for a twin gestation. (Barrett JF, Hannah ME, Hutton EK, et al; Twin Birth Study Collaborative Group. A randomized trial of planned cesarean or vaginal delivery for twin pregnancy. N Engl J Med. 2013;369:1295–1305.)
If the second twin is breech it is obvious that the obstetrician needs to be trained in vaginal breech delivery.
Practices that have become standard over decades should be carefully questioned and replaced by standardized, evidence-based practices. This may safely decrease the cesarean rate. Obstetrics is an art as well as a science. Unfortunately much of the art has been lost and abandoned practices should possibly be revisited.