Cesarean sections now account for one-third of all births in the United States, a sixfold increase since 1970. One Connecticut sociologist says this growth has largely been fueled by doctors’ fears of medical malpractice suits. Ironically, she says, choosing to deliver an infant through an unnecessary C-section can lead to a lawsuit because C-sections increase the chances of a birth injury.

As the Trinity College professor recounts in a new book on the topic, she gave birth to a son in 2006 via an unplanned C-section. When she gave birth later through a vaginal delivery, she noticed that her newborn daughter was in better shape than her son.

In her case, the vaginal delivery after an earlier C-section went against the standard practice of following one C-section with another.

The sociologist cites studies that show mothers are more likely to be injured and children are more likely to suffer birth injuries during C-sections. The mortality rates for both mothers and children are also higher.

So why do doctors opt for C-sections? Medical malpractice, says the sociologist. She contends that even if a mother is injured during a C-section, the likelihood of a lawsuit is smaller since the baby was delivered safely and patients often believe the doctor did everything he or she could to protect the baby by choosing a C-section. Many doctors also apparently believe a lawsuit is more likely if a baby or the mother is injured during vaginal birth. The fear of malpractice suits has turned the United States into the world leader in unnecessary C-sections, she says.

An injury occurring during or shortly after birth can lead to permanent disabilities. Parents understandably may feel anger if they learn that an error during labor was the cause of a condition requiring a lifetime of special care.

Source: The Courant, “Trinity Professor On C-Section ‘Epidemic’,” William Weir, Dec. 16, 2013