Our study showed that the overall rate of CS in mainland China was 54.90% and the most common indication for CS was maternal request (28.43%). CDMR accounted for 15.53% of all deliveries and 28.43% of the CS deliveries in mainland China in our study.
The overall rate of CS in tertiary care hospitals was slightly higher than that in secondary care hospitals, probably because women with high-risk pregnancies were more likely to be admitted to tertiary care than to secondary care hospitals. This presumption is supported by the higher rate of high-risk pregnancy in the tertiary care hospitals compared with the secondary hospitals, as shown in Table 2. The distribution of the indications for CS was also somewhat different between the two types of hospitals.
Our study results also indicated that male infants were more likely than female infants to be delivered by CS. Male infants also had a higher rate of operative intervention in vaginal deliveries (e.g., vacuum and forceps) than female infants. Although there was no correlation between the sex of infants and rate of CDMR, male infants had a higher rate of delivery by CS with indications compared with female infants. This might be because male infants have higher risks of adverse perinatal complications, such as gestational diabetes mellitus in the mother, preterm delivery, fetal distress and macrosomia, failure to progress during the first and second stages of labor, cord prolapse, nuchal cord, true umbilical cord knots, placental abruption, and placenta praevia -.
In the past few decades, we have witnessed a steady rise in global CS rates. In addition to an increase in the numbers of CS deliveries performed worldwide, there has also been a change in the indications for CS; a reflection of changing times . Based on the WHO report for 2007–2008, China had both the highest CS rate (46%) and the highest CDMR rate; the latter accounted for 11.6% of all deliveries in mainland China . Our study shows that these rates have increased even further; Based on our results, the mean rate of CS was 54.90%, while CDMR accounted for 15.53% of all deliveries and 28.43% of the CS deliveries in mainland China. A survey conducted in the US showed that the leading four indications for CS were prolonged labor (dystocia), previous CS delivery, breech presentation, and fetal distress . Unlike the American survey, our study showed that the four leading indications for CS in China were maternal request (28.43%), cephalo-pelvic disproportion (14.08%), fetal distress (12.46%) and previous CS delivery (10.25%). Our results also differed from a survey conducted in a teaching hospital in China in 2013 , which showed that the four leading indications for CS were nuchal cord, previous CS delivery, fetal distress and malpresentation . The indications in common among the three surveys were previous CS and fetal distress. Based on the survey conducted by Wang et al. , the main indication for CS in 1999 was cephalo-pelvic disproportion, and this changed to previous CS delivery in 2009. That study also showed a significant increase in CS rates from 1999 to 2009, with an increased percentage of CS being performed because of a previous CS . Previous CS is the single greatest risk factor for placenta praevia and placenta accrete. If either of these occurs, there is a risk of catastrophic bleeding at delivery, leading to significant maternal morbidity and mortality. The risk of abnormal placenta rises exponentially with the number of CS deliveries performed, probably as a result of the increasing amount of uterine scar tissue . A survey conducted in a teaching hospital in China showed that the rate of CS because of previous CS increased from 7.22% to 20.9% in 3 years . Similarly, another study showed that previous CS was one of the main indications for performing CS in China (13.6%) ,. In 2006, Tang et al. reported that the percentage of pregnant women with a previous CS delivery increased from 18% in 1992 to 40% in 2000 in urban China .
In our study, we found that the main indication for CS was maternal request. With increasing living standards, more women are likely to choose CS as their preferred method of delivery to avoid the issues associated with vaginal delivery, such as the fear of pain during childbirth, subsequent pelvic floor collapse, and incontinence. China’s “one-child policy” was implemented at the end of the 1970s, but was more effective in urban than in rural areas. However, in recent years, there has been some relaxation in the application of the policy all over the country, especially for families in rural areas . Additionally, China instituted a policy this year (2014) to allow more than one child when one of the parents also comes from a single-child family. This may mean that the number of women who will wantmore than one child will increase, and thus, the percentage of pregnant women with a previous CS delivery will increase. Thus, the easing of the one-child policy may translate into an increase in the CS rate.
What are the reasons for the increased CDMR rates among the mainland Chinese population? First, tocophobia (fear of childbirth) may be the most common reason for the increasing rate of CDMR . A survey in 2012 by Pawelec et al. reported that 12% of CS requests by mothers were because of fear of labor pain, and this had increased from a rate of 2% . It has been estimated that 6–10% of all pregnant women have a severe fear of childbirth . Pawelec et al. reported that 52% of pregnant women who had previously requested CS decided on a natural birth after they were informed about methods to reduce labor pain and being guaranteed of the availability of those methods . Therefore, to decrease the rate of CS, appropriate treatment of tocophobia is important.
Second, a common belief in Chinese society, and one reinforced in the media, is that CS delivery is a safer and more convenient way to give birth than vaginal delivery . The perception is that CS affords women a higher level of control over the birth, which they equate with safety and alleviation of fear . This is owed in part to the general perception that CS delivery is much safer now than in the past because of the improvement of the surgical techniques. In addition, there is greater concern among mothers about their subsequent living standard. More women may choose CDMR because of its perceived advantages compared with planned vaginal deliveries, regardless of the potential disadvantages. Vaginal delivery is considered a risk factor for pelvic floor dysfunction, including urinary and anal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and sexual dysfunction . It was reported that 26% of primiparous women had urinary incontinence at 6 months postpartum, with the rate being lowest with elective CS (5%), higher with CS during labor (12%), higher still following spontaneous vaginal birth (22%), and highest following vaginal forceps delivery (33%) ,. However, the urinary incontinence rates 2 years after delivery did not differ significantly between planned vaginal and CS births ,. With regard to the safety of the infant, CS was found to be associated with a reduction in the incidence of antepartum stillbirth, brachial plexus injuries related to shoulder dystocia, bone trauma to the clavicle, skull or humerus, intracranial hemorrhage, and neonatal hypoxemic encephalopathy, compared with vaginal delivery ,,,-. Consequently, many women consider CS as the most convenient and safest way to give birth. However, another study reported adverse effects of CDMR on women’s long-term reproductive health .
Finally, changes in obstetric management and the increasing autonomy of patients in deciding the mode of delivery may contribute to the increasing rate of CDMR . However, many studies have shown that physicians’ attitudes can significantly influence or motivate patients’ choice of delivery method . A large proportion of obstetricians in the US (46%)  and female obstetricians in London (31%)  reported that they would favor CS for themselves or for their partners in an uncomplicated pregnancy. In other studies, two-thirds of Turkish obstetricians would prefer CS as the delivery method for themselves or for their partners in an uncomplicated pregnancy -. Moreover, anxiety of the patient and her family and their insistence on CS was the most commonly stated reason by obstetricians for performing CDMR without any medical indication .
However, several surveys have shown that CS has an adverse effect on long-term reproductive health , and the potential harm seems to outweigh the benefits.
Therefore, to reduce the rate of CS, we should try to reduce the rate of CDMR. This means that the perception of women and their families that CS is the safest and most convenient way for childbirth needs to be changed. First, appropriate treatment for fear of childbirth is very important. A study showed positive effects of psychoeducational group therapy in nulliparous women with severe fear of childbirth in terms of fewer CS deliveries and more satisfactory delivery experiences relative to control women with a similar severe fear of childbirth . Secondly, as medical personnel, we should explain that the risks of CDMR outweigh the benefits when considering the effects on the woman’s long-term reproductive health, and therefore advocate vaginal delivery as the best method for childbirth. Only in this way can we reduce the rate of CS.
Strengths and limitations
As a multicenter clinical epidemiological study, we assessed the largest number of deliveries (111,315) from 39 hospitals in 14 provinces and regions over mainland China, while the majority of similar studies assessed a smaller number of deliveries from one hospital or from a local area. This was the major strength of our study.
The lack of information on ethnicity (i.e., Han vs. other ethnicities) and the differences in specialty level of the different hospitals (tertiary vs. secondary vs. primary) are the main limitations. Different results might be obtained for other ethnic groups. Furthermore, the high CS rate issue affects not only China but the whole world. Further analysis about indications for caesarean section in the world should be performed. As a retrospective study, part of the clinical data was not completed and undetected deviations may exist. However, it is important to bear in mind that selection bias and undetected deviations may not have influenced the results. Another limitation of the study was that it was only a descriptive analysis and we did not perform any multivariable analysis.