Despite higher costs and greater potential risk, C-sections on the rise in Utah

Posted at 10:16 PM, May 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-07 00:16:59-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Decades ago, cesarean sections were rarely performed, and often only in the event of an emergency. These days, one in ten babies in Utah are delivered by C-section, and in some states, the rate is twice as high.

The procedure is more expensive and the recovery time is longer, but many mothers are still opting for C-sections.

Geoffrey, Jonathan and Karenna Stratemeier were delivered via C-section, and they will soon have another little brother. Their mom, Kaitlynn, said she is glad she chose a C-section.

“I think it says that the pressures are less, the pressures to be this warrior mom of non-medicated birth, are less,” she said of the increase in C-sections.

Kaitlynn is far from alone. From 1996 to 2009, the rate of C-sections rose 60 percent in this country. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C-sections account for close to one-third of all births.

So, what's driving this trend?

C-sections, on average, cost around $15,800, while a natural childbirth averages around $9,600. C-sections have a higher risk for infections and bleeding, and scarring is also an issue. The recovery time is also much longer.

There are a variety of reasons behind the rise in C-sections, from misinformation, to convenience, to plain old impatience.

Could doctors also be promoting C-sections to make labor more convenient for them?

“I think sometimes it can be, I think certainly it can be,” said Dr. Mary Abernathy of St. Vincent Women’s Hospital.

Epidurals and mothers who are already obese also drive C-section rates up. Inducing labor earlier than the woman's due date can often lead to a C-section as well.

Studies also show women are getting bad information when it comes to the estimated size of their baby: 30 percent are told their babies are getting quite large, when they may not be large at all.

“We also found that among these women there were higher rates of labor induction, use of pain medications during labor and delivery, and of requests for [C-section] delivery,” said Erika Cheng, Ph.D.

But the most potent driver of C-sections may be mothers themselves, as stories about bad outcomes from traditional deliveries are shared over and over again.

“One of my very best friends, her baby was born still,” Stratemeier said. “She went on to have a baby at 32 weeks. That C-section saved her baby.”

So the obvious question is: Do you have a better chance of having a healthy baby with a C-section or a traditional delivery?

“I would say, all things considered, if you've never had a cesarean section, your chances of having a healthy baby, should [be equal] with vaginal delivery vs cesarean section,” Doctor Abernathy said.

In fact, doctors are being pressured to reduce the rate of C-sections.

“We've kind of had to re-educate the entire physician population of obstetricians, to know, you have to be more patient,” Abernathy said.

Doctors are also urged to reduce the number of C-sections with first time moms. Those who don't have a C-section with their first child are less likely to have a C-section with a later pregnancy.