Pros and Cons: Elective C-Section

Women opting for elective cesarean sections must balance risks against benefits.

ByABC News
January 7, 2009, 5:12 PM

Jan. 7, 2009 — -- In the last decade, the number of cesarean sections or C-sections performed in America has nearly doubled. In fact, in the country today, approximately 30 percent of all babies born in the United States are delivered by C-section.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds that more than a third of C-section are performed too early -- before 39 weeks -- putting newborns at greater risk for a variety of health problems.

While many of these C-sections are medically indicated, the study found that more than half are done on an elective basis. 36 percent of women having elective C-sections scheduled their delivery before the recommended 39 weeks, making babies more likely to visit the intensive care unit, have infections and develop respiratory distress.

Researchers say that elective C-sections are safest for the baby when done between 39 to 41 weeks of gestation and that women considering elective C-sections should wait until that point for the safest delivery.

Though surgical know-how has grown with the increased use of C-sections, doctors say it is still important for women to weigh all possible risks against possible benefits when opting for the procedure.

The Web site provides a physician panel-reviewed list of pros and cons of both vaginal birth and C-sections: