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Fear, Risk, and the Responsible Choice: Risk Narratives and Lowering the Rate of Caesarean Sections in High-income Countries

Helga Hallgrimsdottir Leah Shumka Catherine Althaus Cecilia Benoit

*Corresponding author: Helga Hallgrimsdottir hkbenedi@uvic.ca


In Canada, as elsewhere in the world, caesarean sections are the most common surgical procedure performed in hospitals annually. Recent national statistics indicate 28% of infants in Canada are born by c-section while in the United States that number rises to 33%. This is despite World Health Organization recommendations that at a population level only 10–15% of births warrant this form of medical intervention. This trend has become cause for concern in recent decades due to the short and long-term health risks to pregnant women and infants, as well as the financial burden it places on public health care systems. Others warn this trend may result in a collective loss of cultural knowledge of a normal physiological process and, in the process, establish a new “normal” childbirth. Despite a range of interventions to curb c-section rates—enhanced prenatal care and innovation in pregnancy monitoring, change in hospital level policies, procedures and protocols, as well as public education campaigns—they remain stubbornly resistant to stabilization, let alone, reduction in high-income countries. We explore—through a review of the academic and grey literature—the role of cultural and social narratives around risk, and the responsibilization of the pregnant woman and the medical practitioner in creating this kind of resistance to intervention today.

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