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Pregnancy-Related Deaths Rise Alarmingly In California

Pregnancy-Related Deaths Rise Alarmingly In California

It seems to be a general rule of thumb that if someone doesn’t need surgery, you don’t give it to them.  The exception to that rule, for modern doctors, appears to be the cesarean section.  About 30% of babies in the United States are born by C-section, although a 5% to 10% rate is best for mothers and babies.  The fact that cesarean section is serious surgery does not seem to concern doctors, who are often reluctant to perform vaginal births after cesarean sections (VBACs), or simply see a cesarean section as an uncomplicated alternative to natural labor.  The procedure seems safer when it’s medical and preferably surgical, hence opposition to midwives and home birth.

However, the prevalence of birth by cesarean section, as well as rising obesity in pregnant mothers, seems to have very real consequences.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The mortality rate of California women who die from causes directly related to pregnancy has nearly tripled in the past decade.”  This is the most significant spike in pregnancy-related deaths since the 1930s.  The number of deaths is relatively small, but the rate is larger than that of Kuwait or Bosnia.

This problem may be occurring nationwide as well.  Doctors have been asked to consider “morbid obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, along with hemorrhaging from C-sections, as contributing factors to deaths.”  But the principal investigator for the taskforce, Dr. Elliott Main, says that demographic changes like obese mothers, older mothers and fertility treatments cannot fully account for this dramatic rise in the incidence of maternal death.

And, as Dr. Main observes, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the c-section rate has increased 50 percent over the past decade.  Dr. David Lagrew, a doctor in Orange County, CA, noticed that in his hospital, “many women were having their labor induced before term without a medical reason. He knew that having an induction doubled the chances of a C-section.  So he set a rule: no elective inductions before 41 weeks of pregnancy, with only a few exceptions. As a result, Lagrew said, the operating room schedules opened up, and the hospital saw fewer babies admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, fewer hemorrhages and fewer hysterectomies.”

This meant a dip in revenue for the hospital – a C-section typically brings in twice as much money as a vaginal birth.  It is also the single most common surgical procedure in the U.S.  But Lagrew’s limits on C-sections were clearly much better for the patients, indicating (once again) that this sometimes elective and often unnecessary surgery should not be a common procedure.

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Photo courtesy of Erik Langner's Flickr photostream.

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76 comments

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6:33PM PDT on Jun 8, 2011

My last grandson was delivered by c-section. His head was perfectly shaped due to not having to squeeze through the birth canal.

6:32PM PDT on Jun 8, 2011

My last grandson was delivered by c-section. His head was perfectly shaped due to not having to squeeze through the birth canal.

1:02PM PST on Mar 13, 2010

One would think that ethical doctors would have a problem approving an unnecessary and risky procedure for their patients.

6:26PM PST on Feb 8, 2010

wow! this is interestingly scary.

1:35PM PST on Feb 8, 2010

The rise in C-sections has been going on for over 20 years. I remember doing research back when I was in college and in a women's studies class. I wish all women would have the chance to do this kind of study or research before they get pregnant. I learned what the hazards were to non-medical c-sections and what things hospitals do that can be avoided that put you on the c-section train. Knowledge is power, let's use it!

7:30AM PST on Feb 8, 2010

Shelley in my area, the "transport" rate to hospital by midwives in homebirths was around 10%. Of those, about half needed c-sections.

Of course natural childbirth doesn't make you more of a mother. But it sure makes those initial moments with baby easier and more pleasant!

And I was one of those homebirthers who found the pain extreme and traumatic. But the after part was so, so good. No one took my baby away, I wasn't hooked to a catheter, and I could walk right away, unlike my induced hospital birth.

4:57AM PST on Feb 8, 2010

money money money !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

7:12PM PST on Feb 7, 2010

I would like to know ALL the specs on this. I believe many of these may be from the rise in older women having children and mulitiple births. Does that make us silly for wanting children? Heck no! Also, its not safe having VBACS in most cases. I bet some of this is related to that. You know...making a women feel quilty for NOT having vaginal child birth. I would also like to know how many HOME births have resulted in c sections. Having your children home is nice, but a midwife is NOT God and cant do a c section should you need it. Some of you women saying those who had c section must be lazy...how judgemental of you. As if natural child birth makes YOU more of mother. BS. Some women have a higher tolerance for pain, some do not. Does that make you more a woman because you didnt take a epidural? BS again. I say, this article lacked facts,and until I see ALL the facts, I reserve judgement on this area.

5:00PM PST on Feb 7, 2010

"Birth" is not a "scheduled surgical procedure"! It's sad that C-sections are being scheduled because it is a "money maker". Shame on these OB-GYN's and hospitals!

12:05PM PST on Feb 7, 2010

terrible ! Find a doctor you can trust...

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