The World Health Organization forecasts that almost a third of births globally will be by C section by 2030.

But why is the rate rising?

Here in the UK, about 31% (almost that third that WHO is predicting globally) of births are already C sections. Roughly half of those c sections are elective. In other words, they’re pre planned either for a medical reason or the choice of the woman.

And choice is a big part of this. 15% of women, according to a 2023 poll, would choose to deliver by c section regardless of any medical reasons or lack thereof. The right to choose is important to women in the UK.

But what else might be fuelling a rise in c section rates?

Women Giving Birth Are Getting Older

Women over the age of 35 are likelier to end up with a c section birth for a host of reasons. We’ve seen an increase in the average age at which women give birth over recent years. Many women choose to build a career or travel or do other things before having a family and progress in medicine has meant that it’s safer than ever before for older mothers to give birth.

This affords us choice, the ability to build our lives around our desires but is likely to play a part in increasing c section rates.

Obesity Rates

It’s no secret that obesity levels are alarmingly high, particularly in western countries like the US and UK. Being overweight is a risk factor for a number of conditions during pregnancy such as gestational diabetes. This condition results in babies being particularly large so is a risk factor for a required c section birth. In addition, preeclampsia and gestational hypertension are also more common amongst overweight pregnant women. This is again likely to be a contributor to the increase in C section rates.

woman with a c section scar

The Right to Choose

Guidance from NICE on the right to choose was first published in 2011 before being updated in 2021. In short, it stipulates that a woman should be able to choose to have a c section. If a pregnant woman speaks to her doctor about this, she should be given advice on the pros and cons as well as the risks of a c section. But ultimately, if she still wishes to have a c section after being given all the information, the medical staff should facilitate this. If her Doctor is not prepared to carry out a c section he or she deems as medically unnecessary, then the guidance says they should refer the woman to a consultant who will carry out the procedure.

This guidance ultimately means women can simply choose. Undoubtedly some will agree and others will disagree with this. But if, as the poll we cited earlier, points out, 15% of women would choose this, then ultimately this will add to the c section delivery numbers.

Second C Sections

If the overall numbers of c sections are rising, then the numbers of repeat c sections will rise too. Most women who have a c section in their first birth will go onto have another c section later. ANd this contributes to a rise as well.

C Sections are Safe

While there are risks associated with c section births, it’s important to acknowledge just how safe the procedure is here in the UK. Recovery times are typically lengthier than with a vaginal birth, for sure. But ultimately, this is a procedure that, for the overwhelming majority of women, will be safe and one they’ll recover from.