In 2011, one in three women who gave birth in the United States did so by cesarean delivery. Cesarean birth can be life-saving for the fetus, the mother, or both in certain cases. However, the rapid increase in cesarean birth rates from 1996 to 2011 without clear evidence of concomitant decreases in maternal or neonatal morbidity or mortality raises significant concern that cesarean delivery is overused. Variation in the rates of nulliparous, term, singleton, vertex cesarean births also indicates that clinical practice patterns affect the number of cesarean births performed. The most common indications for primary cesarean delivery include, in order of frequency, labor dystocia, abnormal or indeterminate (formerly, nonreassuring) fetal heart rate tracing, fetal malpresentation, multiple gestation, and suspected fetal macrosomia. Safe reduction of the rate of primary cesarean deliveries will require different approaches for each of these, as well as other, indications. For example, it may be necessary to revisit the definition of labor dystocia because recent data show that contemporary labor progresses at a rate substantially slower than what was historically taught. Additionally, improved and standardized fetal heart rate interpretation and management may have an effect. Increasing women’s access to nonmedical interventions during labor, such as continuous labor and delivery support, also has been shown to reduce cesarean birth rates. External cephalic version for breech presentation and a trial of labor for women with twin gestations when the first twin is in cephalic presentation are other of several examples of interventions that can contribute to the safe lowering of the primary cesarean delivery rate.
This document was developed jointly by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (the College) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine with the assistance of Aaron B. Caughey, MD, PhD; Alison G. Cahill, MD, MSCI; Jeanne-Marie Guise, MD, MPH; and Dwight J. Rouse, MD, MSPH. The information reflects emerging clinical and scientific advances as of the date issued, is subject to change, and should not be construed as dictating an exclusive course of treatment or procedure. Variations in practice may be warranted based on the needs of the individual patient, resources, and limitations unique to the institution or type of practice.
Published concurrently in the March 2014 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Copyright March 2014 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 409 12th Street, SW, PO Box 96920, Washington, DC 20090-6920. All rights reserved.
Safe prevention of the primary cesarean delivery. Obstetric Care Consensus No. 1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2014;123:693–711.