Pregnancy is as old as humanity itself, and no medical procedure has been more central to our continued existence than childbirth. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that rumors of Cesarean sections date back hundreds of years. But while we can question the accuracy of those rumors, we cannot question the fact that C-sections have recently exploded at an astonishing rate.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32% of all U.S. pregnancies led to C-sections in 2017. And while the U.S. rate is still higher than the global rate, NPR recently reported that the rate has spiked across the globe as well. From just 6% in the 1990s, the rate has soared to 21% today-a rate that worries doctors and scientists.

What does the increase in C-sections mean for new mothers and babies?

There are, of course, times that C-sections offer the best hope for mothers and their babies. In these cases, C-sections can save lives or severely limit the risks of future complications. Some examples include:

· The baby isn’t positioned head down

· The umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck

· The mother has HIV or genital herpes

· The doctor has noted troubles with the placenta during pregnancy

· The baby isn’t getting enough oxygen or has an irregular heartbeat

Under such circumstances, C-sections are generally the best choice. But the World Health Organization estimates that these cases amount to roughly 10 to 15% of all pregnancies. This means that C-section rates of 21% or 32% go way beyond what doctors and scientists expect are medically necessary and may veer into the realm of what doctors find convenient. As NPR noted, doctors receiver more money for C-sections, can expect to spend less time with the process and rarely face malpractice suits for their efforts.

However, there are consequences for these choices, most of which affect the mother and child, but not the doctor. These include:

· Increased chance of C-sections for future pregnancies

· Mothers risk surgical complications

· Babies face an increased risk of obesity and autoimmune diseases

It’s important to note that even though C-sections have jumped to the top of the most common surgical procedures, there’s always risk in surgery. The New York Post recently pointed this out by publishing the story of a mother who believes her baby’s face was slashed during a C-section. Naturally, the hospital disputed the claim, but the underlying question might be whether the doctor needed to perform a C-section at all.

Can you afford to play the odds?

Most C-sections take place without incident. And a good many of them are performed to save lives or avoid bad health outcomes. But as the number of C-sections continues to rise, that means more and more chances for mothers and children to suffer from the complications of sloppy-and sometimes unnecessary-surgeries.