Cesarean sections used to be the last resort of doctors when a traditional delivery proved unsuccessful. In recent years, C-sections have surged in popularity with most states across the United States witnessing significant increases in the number of C-sections performed.
Cesarean sections have been a part of human culture for centuries. Though C-sections can be traced to ancient Greek mythology, the procedure remains largely shrouded in mystery, so much so that the origin of its name is still debated.
Many people believe that Cesarean section is named after Julius Caesar, who might have been surgically delivered. However, in the era when Caesar was born, surgical deliveries were only performed on deceased women or those dying in an effort to preserve the life of the child. Caesar’s mother is reported to have heard of her son’s invasion of Britain, which makes it unlikely that Caesar was delivered surgically.
There are other hypotheses behind the name, including a derivative from the Latin verb “caedare,” meaning to cut, and the term “caesones” that was applied to infants born by postmortem operations.
Despite its ambiguous origins, C-sections today have become a regular part of life, despite the complicated surgery involved. The number of C-sections performed has risen in the United States by more than 50 percent between 1998 and 2007. Certain states saw a 70 percent increase, including Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Connecticut and Rhode Island, according to a February 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A C-section involves the use of a spinal anesthesia (epidural) to numb the pelvis and lower extremities of the body. The birthing mother may be given an intravenous sedative to calm her during the procedure as well. A catheter is inserted into the urethra to collect urine during and after the procedure, since the woman will be unable to visit the bathroom.
When the anesthesia takes effect, the surgical area may be shaved and cleaned. A curtain may be placed by the mother’s face so that she doesn’t see the surgery taking place. The doctor will make a horizontal incision into the abdominal wall and into the uterus. Once the baby is reached, he or she will be removed as well as the placenta. The incision is then carefully closed with stitches or surgical staples. When C-sections are performed during an emergency, full anesthesia may be used and a vertical incision may be made to quickly remove the infant.
There are a number of medical reasons doctors suggest a C-section, most of which are reasons that would make a vaginal birth impossible or unsafe. During placenta previa, when the placenta has attached in the uterus partially or fully covering the cervix opening, a C-section will be performed. Breech position babies, or those who are positioned feet-down instead of head-down, may be another reason doctors suggest a C-section. Multiples or a history of vaginal trauma are other reasons for performing C-sections.
Controversy surrounds the increase in elective C-sections, when doctors and pregnant women choose to have a C-section either to avoid a vaginal birth or if they believe it will be hard to accomplish. There are some doctors who say that a C-section needs to occur for every birth that takes place after the first C-section. Others argue that a vaginal birth after C-section, or VBAC, is quite possible and there is less than a 1 percent chance of a uterine rupture, according to experts at WebMD. Uterine rupture is one of the leading reasons VBAC is avoided.
Many pregnant women elect to have C-sections to avoid the pain or long duration of a vaginal birth. Others want to avoid severe tissue tearing, sexual dysfunction or incontinence, each of which can accompany or follow labor and vaginal delivery. It should be noted that it can take from a few days to a week to recover from a vaginal birth, while it can take several weeks to recover from a C-section.
Some medical professionals worry that some women elect to have cesarean procedures prematurely (before the 38th week) to avoid the last push of weight gain and stretching that generally occurs in the final weeks of pregnancy. This can be dangerous to the unborn baby, who needs time to develop properly. This is especially true for the lungs, which are the last organs to develop.
Another controversial subject surrounds doctors who persuade pregnant women to have elective C-sections because a surgical procedure garners a bigger paycheck for the doctor over a vaginal delivery. According to CostHelper.com, the typical cost of a vaginal delivery without complications ranges from about $9,000 to $17,000 or more, depending on geographic location.
The typical cost for a C-section without complications or a vaginal delivery with complications ranges from about $14,000 to $25,000 or more. These costs include hospital equipment and other staff, but a good portion goes to the physician performing the procedure.