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A Critique of the Literature on Women’s Request for Cesarean Section

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Background: The influence of women’s birth preferences on the rising cesarean section rates is uncertain and possibly changing. This review of publications relating to women’s request for cesarean delivery explores assumptions related to the social, cultural, and political-economic contexts of maternity care and decision making. Method: A search of major databases was undertaken using the following terms: “c(a)esarean section” with “maternal request,”“decision-making,”“patient participation,”“decision-making-patient,”“patient satisfaction,”“patient preference,”“maternal choice,”“on demand,” and “consumer demand.” Seventeen papers examining women’s preferred type of birth were retrieved. Results: No studies systematically examined information provided to women by health professionals to inform their decision. Some studies did not adequately acknowledge the influence of obstetric and psychological factors in relation to women’s request for a cesarean section. Other potential influences were poorly addressed, including whether or not the doctor advised a vaginal birth, women’s access to midwifery care in pregnancy, information provision, quality of care, and cultural issues. Discussion: The psychosocial context of obstetric care reveals a power imbalance in favor of physicians. Research into decision making about cesarean section that does not account for the way care is offered, observe interactions between women and practitioners, and analyze the context of care should be interpreted with caution. (BIRTH 34:4 December 2007)

Keywords: cesarean section; childbirth; choice; decision making

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Debra Creedy is a Professor at the Research Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia 2: Chris McCourt is a Professor 3: Jane Weaver is a Senior Lecturer 4: Sarah Beake is a Research Midwife at the Centre for Research in Midwifery and Childbirth, Thames Valley University, London, United Kingdom.

Publication date: December 1, 2007


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