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Is birth the 'old-fashioned way' on its way out in Mexico?

Mexico has the highest rate of Caesarean surgeries in Latin America. Doctors and patients who prefer the convenience of scheduling birth are just one factor playing a role in Mexico's ranking.

By Correspondent / April 10, 2013



MEXICO CITY

Is birth the old-fashioned way on its way out in Mexico?

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The sight of a pregnant woman in labor has become increasingly rare in Mexican hospitals, which now have the highest rate of Caesarean procedures in Latin America. Nearly one in two women give birth by C-section in Mexico today in public and private hospitals; in private hospitals alone, the rate is 70 percent.

Caesarean rates in Mexico far surpass World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations for a target rate between 10 and 15 percent and are beginning to draw scrutiny.

“It’s been high for awhile but it’s climbed to alarming levels,” says Glenda Furszyfer, a doula, or birth assistant, in Mexico City

The factors driving the rising rates of C-sections are numerous, ranging from Mexican consumers’ increasing economic power to lopsided insurance payouts that favor surgery, as well as doctors and patients who prefer the convenience of scheduling birth.

There is also the example set by its northern neighbor: Caesarean rates hit their highest in the United States in 2009 at nearly 33 percent, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Despite ACOG’s recommendations that hospitals limit C-sections to cases where the health of the mother or baby is at risk in a vaginal birth, the rate hasn’t abated.

“It’s a reflection,” says Dr. Jorge Kunhardt, director of Medica Sur Lomas, an upscale private women’s hospital that encourages fewer C-sections. “Whatever happens in the US, we learn it here in Mexico.”

And yet Mexico has far surpassed US rates, prompting concerned health professionals and consumer advocates to question the risks to women and families of so few natural births.

The only choice?

When Mariana Granados told her Mexico City gynecologist that she and her partner were planning a pregnancy, she says the doctor spoke about Caesarean surgery as if it was the only option. It was a natural recommendation: The gynecologist herself had two C-sections, as had the other doctor with whom she shared a practice.

“I wanted something more natural,” Ms. Granados says, so she switched doctors and hired a doula, Ms. Furszyfer.

In Mexico and across Latin America, rising incomes have led more couples to choose private hospital care and more technology in birth, including C-sections. According to the WHO, a doubling of income corresponds to a 77 percent increase in the rate of Caesarean.

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