The rise of caesarean section deliveries of babies has raised eyebrows in India and across the world with suspicions and allegations that many caesarean sections might have been unnecessarily promoted by private healthcare practitioners in money-making schemes. While such commercial factors may exist, scientists from Austria have found that caesarean section deliveries may have changed the way humans evolve, with more women now being born with narrow pelvises.

A caesarean section – or a c-section – is a surgery to deliver the baby through a cut made in the stomach and the womb. It is performed in a number of situations where a pregnant mother develops complications like if the baby is in the breech position with feet towards the birth canal, if the mother has a low lying placenta or high blood pressure. It is also done in cases of foetal pelvic disproportion where the baby’s head is too big to fit the mother’s pelvis.

Before this technique was popularised, often both the mother and the baby would die during labour in cases of foetal pelvic disproportion. The deployment of c-section surgeries in such cases has possibly helped save the lives of both mothers and children. This use of the surgery has caused the genes encoding narrow pelvis to be passed on from mother to their daughters, Dr Philipp Mitteroecker of the department of theoretical biology at the University of Vienna and one of the authors of the new paper told the BBC.

An early c-section operation. (Image: Wellcome Trust/Wikimedia)

The use of c-section surgeries has led to the researchers to predict that the cases where babies cannot fit through the birth canal to have increased by 10% to 20%. Researchers have estimated that the cases where the baby cannot fit through the birth canal have increased from 30 in 1000 births in the 1960s to 36 in 1000 births worldwide, BBC reported.

The study from Austria also found that that there is a trend also towards larger newborns, who are healthier and more likely to be survive. These large babies would earlier get stuck during labour. The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“I expect that this evolutionary trend will continue but perhaps only slightly and slowly,” Mitteroecker told the BBC. “There are limits to that. So I don’t expect that one day the majority of children will have to be born by (Caesarean) sections.”

No doubt, there is some evidence of misuse of the technique. In India, there have been several cases reported of parents “planning” a c-sections not for medical reasons but for astrological purposes.

In India, the National Family Health Survey 4 between 2015-’16 across 15 states showed that number of children delivered via C-section in the private sector was nearly double of that of the private sector. Telangana recorded the highest percentage of babies delivered via c-section among these 15 states, as opposed to the World Health Organisation norm that prescribes c-section deliveries to be ideally 10%-15 % of total deliveries.