March 23, 2010 -- It is now the most common surgical procedure in American hospitals: one in every three babies in the U.S. now come into the world by caesarian section. According to a new report released Tuesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, the C-section rate rose by 53 percent between 1996 and 2007.
The incidence rate of the procedure has climbed steadily over the last 15 years, reaching an all-time high today. The increase can be seen in every corner of the country, across all ages and ethnic groups.
Caesarian sections were once the exception in childbirth, so how did it become so widespread and commonly used? The trend is alarming to some medical professionals who say C-sections are more likely to cause problems that put the mother in the hospital – and the baby in intensive care.
In a related report, also released by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the government reported that more and more women are choosing to give birth outside of hospitals. The majority of these births were to women who had already experienced an in-hospital birth in the past.
"I suspect that economic issues are not the main issues," said Eileen Ehudin Beard, a nurse and senior practice adviser for the American College of Nurse-Midwives. "I suspect consumers are becoming more informed … and seeing home births are a safe alternative for healthy women with a qualified provider."
She said a likely cause of the increase in at-home births is a desire to avoid the interventions hospitals perform, ranging from cesarean sections and epidurals to limiting the time the mother can spend with her newborn.
"I think a lot of consumers are really scared by the high caesarean rate, and they're becoming aware that caesarian is a major surgical procedure," said Beard.
There are reasons for women to have caesarian sections, including twins and other multiples due to fertility treatments. Another factor is the age of the mother; the averages have increased over time. Older mothers are much more likely to have the surgery in order to avoid complications.
Surprisingly, though, the report released Tuesday says the greatest increase in C-sections was among women under the age of 25.
Doctors say the reasons to have the procedure are not purely medical. In an article published last month in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 29 percent of doctors polled said they were performing more C-sections because they feared lawsuits. Traditional births can lead to more complications than a C-section procedure.
Many doctors report women now ask for C-sections because they see it as more convenient. Some moms say they prefer the surgery over a long labor.
ABC News' Joseph Brownstein contributed to this report.