Figures from the Consumer Guide to Maternity Services in Ireland (CGMSI) group show that medical reasons, hospital overcrowding fears and pressures reflected in society are contributing to the rise.
According to the nationwide survey, a little more than 30% of all first-time mothers — whose average age is 29.5, according to Central Statistics Office figures — give birth by C-section. This compares to 24.6% of all mothers who have given birth in recent years in Irish hospitals, meaning almost 19,000 of the 74,278 children born last year were delivered in this way.
While the CGMSI survey reveals variations between hospitals, it has noted that, at St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny, more than 43% of first-time mothers have given birth by C-section — the highest rate in the country.
High rates were also recorded at the private Mount Carmel Hospital in Dublin (36.1%), South Tipperary General Hospital (35.5%) and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda (30.8%).
However, 11 facilities — including Cork University Maternity Hospital, where staff have raised concerns over a lack of capacity on maternity wards — did not provide data to the survey.
Of those hospitals that did record first-time mother C-sections, the lowest rate was at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin (22.1%).
While it has previously been suggested that a rate of C-sections for all mothers in the mid-20s percentage is too high and that as many as one in 10 are unnecessary, World Health Organisation (WHO) figures show the Irish rate broadly in line with OECD levels.
In the mid-1980s, the WHO said C-section rates should account for just 15% of births — a figure it recently revised up to the high 20s.
While specific medical reasons relating to the expectant mother and concerns over the safety of a natural birth play a significant role in C-section rates, they do not fully explain the ongoing growth in the number of cases.
Parent groups have pointed to issues such as a desire to give birth at a specific time and avoid potential overcrowding issues, an explanation supported by the high rates at the private Mount Carmel Hospital facility.