The Cutting Edge: A C-Section Boom

Today a record number of babies -- nearly one in three -- are born via cesarean, and some experts are alarmed by the trend.

The Desire for Delivery Control

Surgical knife

Jason Todd

When Terrie Montelongo learned she was expecting, the 26-year-old San Antonio resident did what many first-time moms do -- she chose a color for the nursery, registered for gifts, and dreamed about the day when she would finally hold her baby. But as Montelongo's belly expanded, her mind filled with fear. "I was really worried about labor pain, and the very idea of an episiotomy totally freaked me out," she says. "And the birthing classes didn't help -- the more I learned, the more I was convinced I couldn't handle it." And so Montelongo asked her ob-gyn for a c-section even though it was medically unnecessary. "My doctor was willing to do it, but he made sure I understood the risks and benefits," she says. "Ultimately, the decision was mine." On March 22, 2005, Joseph Michael Montelongo entered the world just as his mother envisioned -- with the help of a scalpel, not a push.

A decade ago, doctors resorted to surgery only if a vaginal birth was deemed too risky for the mother or child. Today, the majority of cesareans are still performed for medical reasons (for instance, the baby is too large or in a breech position, or goes into fetal distress during delivery), but more and more women are requesting to give birth by c-section. Some mothers-to-be, like Montelongo, have qualms about the pain of vaginal delivery; others worry about the risk of urinary incontinence from a vaginal birth, and still others simply like the convenience of scheduling the delivery date. All these women want more control over their childbirth experience.

Labor & Delivery: What to Expect in a C-Section
Labor & Delivery: What to Expect in a C-Section

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