Caesarean sections are on the rise globally currently accounting for about one in every five childbirths.
A new survey by the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that this number is set to increase over the next ten years with nearly a third of all births likely to be caesarean section by 2030.
While a caesarean section can be a critical lifesaving procedure, it can equally put the mother and babies at unnecessary risk of short- and long-term health problems if undertaken in cases where there lacks a justifiable medical need.
“Caesarean sections are absolutely critical to save lives in situations where vaginal deliveries would pose risks, so all health systems must ensure timely access for all women when needed,” said Dr Ian Askew, Director of WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research and the UN joint programme.
“But not all the caesarean sections carried out at the moment are needed for medical reasons. Unnecessary surgical procedures can be harmful, both for a woman and her baby.”
Caesarean sections can be essential in situations such as prolonged or obstructed labour, fetal distress, or because the baby is presenting in an abnormal position.
However, as with all surgeries, they pose risks, including potential heavy bleeding or infection, slower recovery times after childbirth, delays in establishing breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact, as well as a higher likelihood of complications in future pregnancies.
An estimated eight per cent of women gave birth by caesarean section in poor countries with sub-Saharan Africa accounting for five per cent, indicating inaccessibility of this lifesaving surgery.
The primary drivers of C-sections across the world include health sector policies and financing, cultural norms, perceptions and practices, rates of preterm births, and quality of healthcare.
“But not all the caesarean sections carried out at the moment are needed for medical reasons.”Dr Ian Askew, Director of WHO’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research and the UN joint programme
The WHO is now urging health practitioners to focus on each woman’s unique needs during pregnancy and childbirth.
“It’s important for all women to be able to talk to healthcare providers and be part of the decision making on their birth, receiving adequate information including the risks and benefits.
WHO also recommends some non-clinical actions to lower unnecessary use of caesarean sections, within the overall context of high quality and respectful care such as educational interventions that engage women actively in planning for childbirth such as preparation workshops, relaxation programmes and psychosocial support where desired, for those with fear of pain or anxiety.