Can too much of a good thing be bad for you? Of course. The modern C-section procedure has been a lifesaver for countless women and children, wherever hospital delivery has grown more common. But as WHO states, the number of maternal and newborn deaths decrease only until cesarean deliveries rise towards 10% across the population, after which there is no evidence that mortality rates improve. So it is a real cause for concern when the latest NSO survey on the state of India’s health finds that the share of women delivering through C-section has crossed 28%.
It is not just that caesareans performed for non-medically indicated reasons are unhelpful. As with any major surgery, they actually introduce new risks. Indeed research on their short- and long-term effects makes for hairy reading. For example, for mothers there is a reported rise in the odds of depression and serious difficulties with subsequent pregnancies. For children the subtle alteration in neonatal physiology can increase later incidence of obesity, asthma, juvenile arthritis.
To reiterate, C-sections save lives when there is a medical crisis but endanger health when they are elective. Consider that C-sections are 17% of births in government hospitals but 55% in private hospitals. Something is very amiss here. Where patients and their families themselves push such interventions, doctors need to provide better guidance. But where it is the service providers who are guilty, state needs to scrutinise the data and direct course correction. Normal deliveries should be the norm.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.