“Doing something” about the cesarean delivery rate

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Abstract

There is a general consensus that the cesarean delivery rate in the United States is too high, and that practice patterns of obstetricians are largely to blame for this situation. In reality, the US cesarean delivery rate is the result of 3 forces largely beyond the control of the practicing clinician: patient expectations and misconceptions regarding the safety of labor, the medical-legal system, and limitations in technology. Efforts to “do something” about the cesarean delivery rate by promulgating practice directives that are marginally evidence-based or influenced by social pressures are both ineffective and potentially harmful. We examine both the recent American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)/Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine Care Consensus Statement “Safe Prevention of Primary Cesarean Delivery” document and the various iterations of the ACOG guidelines for vaginal birth after cesarean delivery in this context. Adherence to arbitrary time limits for active phase or second-stage arrest without incorporating other clinical factors into the decision-making process is unwise. In a similar manner, ever-changing practice standards for vaginal birth after cesarean driven by factors other than changing data are unlikely to be effective in lowering the cesarean delivery rate. Whether too high or too low, the current US cesarean delivery rate is the expected result of the unique demographic, geographic, and social forces driving it and is unlikely to change significantly given the limitations of current technology to otherwise satisfy the demands of these forces.

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