Why Are So Many Moms In China Choosing C-Sections?

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
For years, it was believed that China's C-section rate was astronomically high. A study published last week sought to correct some of the misinformation and provide insight as to why mothers are opting for the procedure instead of a vaginal birth.

According to the New York Times, in 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 46% of births in China were delivered via C-section. However, that study only used a sample size of 21 hospitals. In a country with a population of 1.3 billion and a mix of rural and urban communities, that sample was not representative of the entire nation. The real number, which was found using a sample of birth records for the past seven years, is 35%. It's still high, despite the government discouraging the practice. With the recent repeal of China's One Child Policy, many believed that the rate of C-sections would decline, but it's actually slowly rising.

The WHO reports that C-sections are only medically necessary (when the procedure is used to save the life of the child or the mother) in only 10-15% of births. A 2015 study found the ideal number to be 19%.

Some are attributing the rise in C-sections to Chinese parents' and grandparents' want of a lucky date, which includes dates with the number eight (8, 18, or 28). A study by Columbia University found instances of C-sections were 2.3% higher on those days. In Western countries, there is no marked increase on those particular days. The study also found an avoidance of C-sections on unlucky days in China, such as the 4, 14, and 24.

The Times reports that "many parents and grandparents demand C-sections to assure that births take place on a lucky day in the astrological calendar, or because they believe that a surgically removed infant is more likely to be perfectly formed."

The study also noted that geography plays a huge role in the C-section rate. In urban areas such as Shanghai, the statistic climbs to 68%. In Tibet, it's 4%. The Times adds, "half of all Chinese still live in rural areas where home births are more common and distances to hospitals are greater, so actual rates are closer to the ideal 10 to 20% range."

In the United States, the C-section rate is about 32%. In America and China alike, many mothers choose C-sections to avoid labor pains and many doctors suggest the procedure to avoid malpractice lawsuits and for convenience.

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