Before 1998, Caesarean sections weren’t all that popular in China. But once the late ‘90s hit, this medical procedure began to skyrocket – seemingly out of nowhere.
On Nov. 12, Melissa Rock, assistant professor of geography at SUNY New Paltz, discussed the causes and consequences of the rising rate of C-section births in China. She explained that there are several health consequences of exceeding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) suggested procedure rate, which currently lies between 10 to 15 percent.
Rock first discussed the history of C-sections. Since the birth of Julius Caesar, for whom the birthing method was named, C-sections were used to birth a child if the mother was unable to naturally or if the mother was already deceased. But over the last two decades, nearly half of all births in China – a whopping 47 percent – have been C-section procedures, according to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
CFR finds that some areas in China perform between 70 to 80 percent of all births as C-sections. In 1998, however, only 3.4 percent of Chinese births were C-sections.
Rock said that a main reason many Chinese mothers have chosen C-sections over natural birth is because they are trying to follow the footsteps of a country they believe to be modern and progressive: the United States.
A recorded 32.2 percent of American births are C-sections as of 2014, according to Childbirth Connection, a non-profit organization founded as a Maternity Center Association in 1918.
Many Chinese mothers are under the impression that because there are so many C-sections performed in the United States, the procedure must be “good, modernized, progressive and more safe,” Rock said.
Nathen Clerici, an assistant professor of Asian studies, attended Rock’s lecture and said that it’s discouraging to know how misled some patients are.
“C-sections are unnecessary interventions and it’s discouraging that they would be a first option for many people,” he said. “C-sections are great when need be but [the Chinese] are performing more because these are what modern places are doing.”
Over the past few decades, Chinese medical establishments have encouraged C-sections for expecting mothers because they figure they will make a bigger profit. Because C-sections are major abdominal surgery, they require more physicians than natural births. Along with a physician to deliver the baby, C-sections require an anesthesiologist among other support staff. They also require the mother to remain in the hospital for about two to four days. In comparison, a natural birth usually leaves a mother in the hospital for only one day.
Performing C-sections also gives doctors ample time for more operations. Rock said that doctors can perform about eight to 10 C-sections in a day as opposed to about two to three natural births. A natural birth may bring a mother into labor for days, whereas the C-section procedure takes a mere couple of hours.
Another major concern Rock called attention to were the effects on women’s bodies after receiving this procedure. While C-sections may be shorter and less painful than natural childbirth, they often result in much longer recovery periods as well as a higher amount of blood loss.
Rock also said that studies show there is less bonding between mother and child when C-sections are performed because of anesthesia.
“The ‘love hormone’ oxytocin is released during childbirth, which helps the baby along and helps with baby bonding,” she said. “This is not to say we turn into robots otherwise, such as during C-sections, but [experiencing the effects] of oxytocin are a natural kickstarter.”
In recent years, doctors have found ways to keep the mother awake during surgery so she can hold her baby when it is delivered. This way, the mother feels a stronger bond with her child as she would after a natural childbirth, mitigating any distress she may have felt had she not held her baby.
It is also harder and less safe for mothers to produce breast milk for their children because of the chemicals in the anesthetics.
Rock said that another reason more women have preferred C-section births over natural births is because they are able to schedule their delivery dates.
Many women, especially in the Chinese culture, like to plan the day that they will have a child because of “lucky dates” in Chinese astrology. These include the sixth and eighth days of the lunar month as well as the year of the dragon.
While many women in China are drawn to the idea of planned deliveries and what they imagine to be “safer” procedures, C-sections are not always condoned by the WHO. They report that there lacks evidence to support improved health outcomes or mortality rates for both mother and child.
“The question at hand is ‘what is it to be modern or advanced?’ versus traditional methods and letting childbirth unfold,” Rock said. “In some cases, C-sections may be a good option, but otherwise, the traditional method is the preferred route.”
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on November 19, 2015.