What the rest of the country can learn from Utah's low C-section birthrate

Even as the proportion of births by caesarean section hovers at 32 percent in the U.S., new federal data show a decline in surgical births in Utah, which already had the lowest C-section rate in the nation.

In a report released Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 22.3 percent of Utah women who gave birth in 2016 had C-sections, down from 22.8 percent in 2015.

And Utah again had the lowest rate of C-sections in the nation. Nationwide, the C-section rate for 2016 was 31.9 percent, down a fraction from 2015’s 32 percent.

The new report, which contains provisional data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, also revealed that the number of births in the U.S. declined 1 percent and the fertility rate for American women between the ages of 15 and 44 is at a record low.

Utah is historically an outlier when it comes to the overall birthrate, too. In 2015, Utah had 78 births per 1,000 women, compared to the national average of 62.5.

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There were 50,464 babies born in Utah in 2016, but the state’s overall ranking won’t be known until the CDC releases its final report in the fall.

Meantime, the state can enjoy its top ranking in an important measure of women’s health. While surgical births can save lives, unnecessary C-sections put both mothers and babies at risk for complications, not only in childbirth but later in life.

C-section babies are more likely to suffer respiratory distress and later have asthma, they miss the immune-boosting exposure to the mother’s microbiota during the journey through the birth canal, and, according to one Harvard University study, are more likely to be obese later in life.

Even when a C-section goes well, the procedure is major surgery from which the mother must recover, and her chance of having a vaginal birth with other children steeply declines.

In subsequent pregnancies, she is at risk for placenta problems (some of which can be fatal), uterine rupture and hysterectomy; in later years, she can develop abdominal adhesions. The World Health Organization says that C-sections should only be performed when medically necessary, and that too many are not. A C-section rate between 10 and 15 percent is widely considered optimal for the best birth outcomes in a…

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