May 1, 2024 - News

Massachusetts' C-section rate above national average

Cutline: Data: CDC; Chart: Axios Visuals

About a third of births in Massachusetts last year were cesarean deliveries, just above the national average.

Why it matters: Massachusetts, which is home to world-class hospitals, also has C-section rates far above the 10-15% rate the WHO considers "ideal."

  • While C-sections are medically necessary for some parents, they can have short- and long-term health risks.

By the numbers: The 2023 C-section rate was 33.5% in Massachusetts, according to provisional CDC data.

Zoom out: The national C-section delivery rate has increased since 2020, following a general decline between 2009 and 2019, per the CDC.

  • The national C-section delivery rate increased in 2023 to 32.4%, up from 32.1% in 2022, according to provisional CDC numbers.

Between the lines: With conditions like gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy on the rise, there could be a greater need for C-sections, says Jane van Dis, OB-GYN and assistant professor at the University of Rochester.

  • Van Dis hypothesizes that the rise in those conditions is due to "environmental exposure," such as the increasing use of plastics.
  • Hospital politics might also come into play. Some doctors might choose a C-section to reduce the likelihood of a medical malpractice suit, and health care reimbursements tend to be higher for C-sections than for vaginal births.

What we're watching: Expanding access to doula care — including insurance coverage through MassHealth — could lower the rates of C-sections.

  • The city of Boston is building a program to offer expecting parents doula services.
  • Doulas are there for psychological support during the often-overwhelming labor process, and to help with birth positions that could avoid the need for a C-section, van Dis says.
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