Research has found that one of the greatest predictors of whether or not a person will have a C-section is the hospital where they give birth. And so, when you’re choosing a hospital (or a provider), it can be helpful to consider that hospital’s C-section rate. This information can be complicated to track down and sort through, so the nonprofit Leapfrog has collected hospital data that you can search through, available here.
Before we get into the nitty gritty details and discuss why we generally find that hospitals with lower C-section rates are better places to give birth, let’s discuss the context.
A note about C-sections
C-sections can be lifesaving medical interventions — for birthing parent and baby — but they do come with higher associated risks, including for the birthing person, a 3x higher risk of blot clot, hemorrhage, or infection. And they are often performed when they’re not medically necessary,
So how can I avoid an unnecessary C-section?
One of the most influential factors in the method of delivery for a single patient is the hospital where a patient delivers. And hospitals’ C-section rates can vary by more than 10 fold, even within the same state! So considering the hospital you choose to give birth at is your first step in preventing an unnecessary C-section.
Why do some hospitals have higher C-section rates?
There are lots of reasons some hospitals have higher C-section rates — oftentimes, due to scheduling issues or lack of space, providers make the decision to perform a C-section when labor isn’t progressing quickly enough.
Hospitals with lower C-section rates tend to have more supportive care cultures — they tend to welcome doula services, encourage nurses to spend more time with patients, and avoid intervening unnecessarily during labor. All of these factors are not only helpful in reducing unnecessary C-sections, they’re also just good practice.
A common C-section misconception
Even if you’ve planned to have a vaginal birth, you might think that choosing a hospital with a higher C-section rate means that you’re in better hands if you do end up needing one, but this is a common misconception.
Hospitals with high C-section rates don’t necessarily have more experience. Rather, they may just not have the care culture or staff necessary to ensure that all interventions are exhausted before moving to a C-section.
So, what can I do next?
By selecting a hospital with a low C-section rate, you’re taking a step to reduce your risk of having a medically unnecessary, expensive, and risky operation.
That said, there are many factors that influence your hospital choice and birth plan. For some, a C-section is the safest delivery option. No matter how you plan to give birth, you should feel empowered to make the best decision for you and your baby with your provider.
And if you are planning to have a C-section or you end up needing one, you might find this additional information helpful.