ABOUT one in three babies born in Warrnambool arrives by caesarean section — a rate South West Healthcare obstetrics director Michael Koutsoukis thinks could be too high.
Dr Koutsoukis believes Warrnambool’s rate of caesarean births, which was similar to the national level, could be safely reduced to 20-25 per cent, although there was no optimum or recommended rate.
An education campaign was needed to dispel the misconception in the community that caesarean birth always reduced the risks for mothers and their babies, he said.
Dr Koutsoukis will raise his concerns about the increasing national rate of caesarean births in an address tomorrow at the Turning the Tide for Birth and Breastfeeding conference in Warrnambool.
The national conference, which involves about 250 health professionals from throughout Australia, begins today and will finish on Sunday.
Dr Koutsoukis said the increase in caesarean births in Warrnambool was not delivering any better outcomes for babies of low-risk mothers.
“Mothers are more at risk of complications following surgery and their babies are not doing any better,” he said.
Repeat caesareans in particular could lead to the risk of the placenta getting stuck on the caesarean scar.
He said caesarean births might also have a long-term detrimental effect on babies’ health.
It appeared babies born vaginally picked up “healthy bugs” from their mothers that could reduce their risk of allergies and asthma.
There might also be a link with conditions such as Type 1 diabetes and an unhealthy body mass index for babies delivered by pre-labour caesarean, Dr Koutsoukis said.
He said very few caesareans were performed because women feared the pain of childbirth or that they would overstretch their vagina.
Dr Koutsoukis said an important contributor to the high rate of caesareans was a parallel rise in the number of induced births.
While inducing a birth made its timing convenient, it was too often done without a clear medical reason —such as to fit in with farm life or school holidays, or to ensure a partner or family member was present.
“It does not seem to take a lot for women to be induced,” Dr Koutsoukis said.
However, inductions could cause problems for mothers such as increased pain in labour and the need for a caesarean section, particularly for first babies, he said.
South West Healthcare maternity unit manager Peter Logan said any variation from the “simple” process of natural childbirth made a caesarean birth more likely.
“Our preference is to let people do it (birth) themselves. To be patient and wait.”