Low-risk deliveries generall include women who have never had a C-section, don't deliver prematurely or are pregnant with a single baby that is properly positioned.
Two Virginia hospitals have some of the highest rates for C-section deliveries for low-risk pregnancies.
For many years, cesarean section deliveries have been used for high-risk pregnancies where the life of the mother or baby is at risk. But now the procedure is increasingly being used for women who have never had a C-section before, are not delivering prematurely or are pregnant with a single child who is properly positioned.
Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church has the highest rate of C-sections for low-risk deliveries in the region at 28 percent. The Virginia Hospital Center has the second highest rate in the region with 27 percent. Rates at these two hospitals are so high that they both landed on a top 10 list put together by Consumer Reports, which compiled the data.
"It is an alarming trend," says Dr. Michele Davidson, associate professor and coordinator of the PhD Nursing Program at George Mason University.
"You have a much higher mortality and morbidity rate when you perform a C-section versus a normal birth," she says.
Since 1970, C-section deliveries have increased 500 percent, according to Consumer Reports. Most of that rise was during the 1970s and 1980s, although there's been a new spike since the mid-1990s. Aaron Caughey is a member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He says the trend is an epidemic.
"I use that word because it's nationwide and it's worldwide," Caughey says. "It is something that is occurring that we need to understand better. And it's something that is occurring that, in my opinion, we should work to forestall."
That's because C-section deliveries increase risk to women when they have future pregnancies.
According to a study cited by Consumer Reports, healthy women with low-risk births are three times more likely to suffer serious complications with C-sections, including severe bleeding, heart attack and major infections.
And although there is some benefit to doctors when it comes to time and money, Caughey says there is very little benefit to women.
"Maybe if it were lowering the risk of neonatal mortality that would be a good thing. But we haven't seen that. We haven't seen a dip in the rate of neonatal mortality or morbidity for several decades," he says.
Earlier this year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine published new practice guidelines in an effort to cut back on the number of unnecessary C-sections.