The number of Caesarean sections (C-Section) has dramatically increased in Irish hospitals since the mid-80s. The procedure has become more mainstream as mothers increasingly have their first born in their mid-thirties, a shifting trend compared to 30 years ago.

The research, which was jointly undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute, Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, also shows, that in addition to the age of mothers, the increased safety of the procedure was a contributing factor for the rise in statistics.

The study showed that there had been a 65% increase in births to women over the age of 35. Women with this age profile now make up one third of births in Irish hospitals, up from one fifth in 1999. The level of risk to first time mothers increases with age, but this does not appear to be a major deterrent at present.

Although the rate of Caesarean sections is increasing across countries in the OECD, Ireland’s rate is considered “average to high” from an international perspective. By comparison, the rate of Caesarean sections in the Netherlands is 50% less than in Ireland.

Discrepancy amongst maternity units

Different maternity hospitals and units have varied rates in providing Caesarean sections.

The lowest rate of the operation is performed by the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, in Dublin. Both South Tipperary General and St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny have the highest rate of Caesareans at more than 35%.

Hospitals that had the highest rates of Caesarean sections in 1999 have also displayed the largest increase in the procedure in the latest research.

Counter-intuitively, staff numbers and funding have not matched the increased risk from the rise in age from first time mothers or the increase in births in hospitals.

Professor Michael Turner of UCD is complimentary of the service Irish hospitals deliver, saying that it was “among the best in the world” in spite of many challenges. However, he cautions that funding will be necessary to continue to provide this standard.

If we wish to maintain this record we will need to invest to take account of adverse trends whilst constantly striving to coordinate and improve practice in Irish maternity services,” he says.

07 November 2016

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