A cesarean birth (C-section) is when a baby is born by coming through surgical cuts or incisions in the mothers' belly through her skin, fat, muscle and uterus. Sometimes a C-section is necessary because of complications or risks ― if a baby is not in a head-down position or the mother has a serious medical condition, for example. If a C-section is not necessary, a vaginal birth is always preferable.

What is the Total C-section measure?

Total C-section rates represent the percentage of all live births born via C-section. This includes situations in which a C-section might have been safely avoided as well as instances in which it offered benefits to mother or child. A hospital with a higher Total C-section rate than the average for all hospitals on the site could mean a higher likelihood of having a C-section if you give birth at that hospital. It could also mean the hospital cares for a high number of women with complicated or high-risk births that necessitate C-sections.

What do C-sections mean for me and my baby?

A C-section is major surgery that poses risks such as infection, blood clots, trouble breastfeeding and a longer recovery. Babies born by C-section can have breathing difficulties and are more likely to develop asthma or allergies later in life. For these reasons, reducing the number of C-sections that aren't medically necessary should be a high priority for all hospitals, physicians, other maternity care providers and pregnant women.

Why do hospital C-section measures matter?

C-section rates vary widely from hospital to hospital. Many factors may affect a hospital's rate, such as variations in doctors' training and practice styles, and hospital labor management policies. Some hospitals care for a high number of women with complicated or high-risk births and these hospitals can be expected to have higher C-section rates overall. Many maternity care leaders believe that we can safely bring down C-section rates quite a bit over time.

What can I do with this information?

Knowing a hospital's Total C-section rate can help you assess the chances that you may end up giving birth by C-section. The risks of C-sections are clear and giving birth at a hospital with a lower Total C-section rate can help reduce the likelihood of having a C-section that is not medically needed. Be sure to discuss with your doctor or midwife whether you can safely avoid a C-section and make sure your care team and hospital clearly understand your birthing plan and preferences.