The Beijing public health bureau has asked city hospitals to reduce the number of Caesarean sections. Last year, the Caesarean rate in Beijing was 51 percent, much higher that the 10-15 percent recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The picture is grim in the rest of China as well. Nearly half of all the babies born in the country are Caesarean deliveries, according to a WHO survey released last year.
China has one of the highest Caesarean rates in the world. Even though the Caesarean rate has increased in the United States, it is still only 31 percent, according to the WHO survey.
The availability of advanced healthcare in China has sharply increased the Caesarean rate in major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.
Caesarean births are usually safe, and a Caesarean can, when needed, save the mother and her child from injury. The usual reasons for performing Caesareans are a mother’s failure to go into labor, fetal distress, breech position of the child (feet first), and/or a previous Caesarean.
But women who can or plan to have only one child are more likely to opt for Caesarean, reflecting their desperation to ensure their children’s survival and to avoid the risk of complications. Some women go in for Caesarean to avoid labor pain or because they want their children to be born on an “auspicious” date and/or time.
Chinese women who delay childbearing are also likely to opt for Caesarean. But quite a few women in Norway, Denmark and Sweden choose motherhood at an even more advanced age and prefer natural delivery without causing any harm to themselves or their children.
So many women in China choose Caesarean because some profit-oriented hospitals encourage them to do so. Women have the right to choose the method of delivery. But hospitals and obstetricians should know that it is not ethical to recommend Caesarean for women with low-risk pregnancy.
More importantly, Caesarean can be detrimental to the health of mother and child. Studies show that Caesarean children have higher rates of respiratory illnesses and feeding disorders, and mothers need a longer time to recover and are more likely to develop infections or blood clots.
Public health officials and hospitals have to work together to reduce the high Caesarean rate in the country by determining the cases where Caesarean is necessary and ensuring that it is performed in the best way for the best reasons.
In the interest of mothers and children, greater uniformity and a higher degree of standardization should be made the norm in maternity services throughout the country.