WHO: Unnecessary C-Sections Can Lead to Long-Term Complications

In a statement released today, the World Health Organization warned that medically unnecessary Caesarean sections can endanger women and infants, saying they’re associated with both “short and long term risk which can extend many years beyond the current delivery and affect the health of the woman, her child, and future pregnancies.”

In the WHO’s statement, which we saw via TIME, the organization says that the preferred rate of C-sections in both developing and developed nations is around 10 to 15 percent of all births. As TIME points out, C-section rates vary sharply across countries: 33 percent of births in the U.S., 52 percent in Brazil, and just seven percent in Indonesia. But they’re becoming increasingly common across the world, for a variety of reasons, and the WHO is particularly worried about places where they’re performed in facilities that aren’t fully equipped to do so:

Caesarean sections can cause significant and sometimes permanent complications, disability or death particularly in settings that lack the facilities and/or capacity to properly conduct safe surgery and treat surgical complications. Caesarean sections should ideally only be undertaken when medically necessary.


In other words, this isn’t really about women in developed countries choosing to have C-sections versus choosing vaginal births; this is about figuring out how to allow people in places with less-stellar medical care to give birth safely. As the WHO points out, the long-term risks “are higher in women with limited access to comprehensive obstetric care.”

Nor is there going to be any kind of effort to “crack down” on the procedure. The WHO just recommends they only be performed when a vaginal birth isn’t possible, adding, “Every effort should be made to provide caesarean sections to women in need, rather than striving to achieve a specific rate.”

Image via Shutterstock

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