Optimising the use of caesarean section (CS) is of global concern. Underuse leads to maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity. Conversely, overuse of CS has not shown benefits and can create harm. Worldwide, the frequency of CS continues to increase, and interventions to reduce unnecessary CSs have shown little success. Identifying the underlying factors for the continuing increase in CS use could improve the efficacy of interventions. In this Series paper, we describe the factors for CS use that are associated with women, families, health professionals, and health-care organisations and systems, and we examine behavioural, psychosocial, health system, and financial factors. We also outline the type and effects of interventions to reduce CS use that have been investigated. Clinical interventions, such as external cephalic version for breech delivery at term, vaginal breech delivery in appropriately selected women, and vaginal birth after CS, could reduce the frequency of CS use. Approaches such as labour companionship and midwife-led care have been associated with higher proportions of physiological births, safer outcomes, and lower health-care costs relative to control groups without these interventions, and with positive maternal experiences, in high-income countries. Such approaches need to be assessed in middle-income and low-income countries. Educational interventions for women should be complemented with meaningful dialogue with health professionals and effective emotional support for women and families. Investing in the training of health professionals, eliminating financial incentives for CS use, and reducing fear of litigation is fundamental. Safe, private, welcoming, and adequately resourced facilities are needed. At the country level, effective medical leadership is essential to ensure CS is used only when indicated. We conclude that interventions to reduce overuse must be multicomponent and locally tailored, addressing women’s and health professionals’ concerns, as well as health system and financial factors.
Caesarean section—the most common surgery in many countries around the world—is a procedure that can save women’s and babies’ lives when complications occur during pregnancy or birth. However, caesarean section use for non-medically indicated reasons is a cause for concern because the procedure is associated with considerable short-term and long-term effects and health-care costs. Caesarean section use has increased over the past 30 years in excess of the 10–15% of births considered optimal, and without significant maternal or perinatal benefits. A three-part Lancet Series on Optimising Caesarean Section Use reviews the global epidemiology and disparities in caesarean section use, as well as the health effects for women and children, and lays out evidence-based interventions and actions to reduce unnecessary caesarean sections.
Access the 1st paper of the Lancet series – Global epidemiology of use of and disparities in caesarean sections
Access the 2nd paper of the Lancet Series – Short-term and long-term effects of caesarean section on the health of women and children
Access the 1st Comments paper about the series – FIGO position paper: how to stop the caesarean section epidemic
Access the 2nd Comments paper about the series – Appropriate use of caesarean section globally requires a different approach
Access the 3rd Comments paper about the series – Strategic measures to reduce the caesarean section rate in Brazil
Access the Editorial paper about the series – Stemming the global caesarean section epidemic
Access the Profile paper related to the series – Ana Pilar Betrán: seeking the optimum use of caesarean section