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Systematic Review of Nulliparous Women’s Views of Planned Cesarean Birth: The Missing Component in the Debate about a Term Cephalic Trial

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Background: The suggestion that planned cesarean birth is gaining acceptance among women has led some physicians to advocate the need for a trial of primary planned cesarean section versus planned vaginal birth in healthy women with singleton cephalic pregnancies at term. This paper reviews published studies of nulliparous women’s views of mode of birth collected in the antenatal period, examining why women may express a preference for cesarean birth and exploring implications for the debate about the need for a trial. Methods: A systematic literature review was undertaken of Cochrane, CINAHL, EMBASE, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO using the MeSH heading “cesarean section” and four free text spellings of “cesarean,” or “birth” or “delivery,” near truncated synonyms of 17 words meaning expressed preference. Studies of nulliparous women with a medical indication for cesarean birth, studies where a woman’s preference for mode of birth was reported in the postpartum period, surveys of midwives or obstetricians, and opinion and non-English language papers were all excluded. Results: Nine papers were included in the review, which reported rates of women expressing a preference for cesarean birth that ranged from 0 to 100 percent at recruitment. However, the papers raised specific methodological, conceptual, and cultural issues that may have influenced women’s preferences for mode of birth in the populations studied. These issues included the timing and frequency of data collection, complexity of factors determining individual women’s decision making, and influence of societal norms. Conclusions: Little evidence is available that an increasing cultural acceptance of cesarean delivery will bring about support for a trial among pregnant nulliparous women. Further qualitative research investigating the influence of both obstetric and psychosocial factors on women’s views of vaginal and cesarean birth is required. (BIRTH 33:3 September 2006)

Keywords: cesarean; systematic review; women’s views

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Lisa Baker is a Midwifery Research Co-ordinator at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Liverpool 2: Tina Lavender is a Professor of Midwifery and Women’s Health at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire, England.

Publication date: 2006-09-01

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