Caesarean section rates vary widely across Europe with percentages of women giving birth by caesarean ranging from 52% in some countries to 15% in others, according to a new report.
Around a quarter of births in the UK are by Caesarean section, according to the Euro-Peristat study, while the highest rates were found in Cyprus and the lowest were seen in Iceland.
The study authors said the findings highlight a clear lack of consensus about good obstetric practice.
“The differences observed raise questions about why there are such wide variations in clinical practice”
Further research is needed to investigate the reasons for the differences, including exploring the impact of differences and the attitudes of parents and professionals.
The Euro-Peristat project is a collaboration between 26 member states of the European Union, as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.
It is the first study to show the wide differences between countries of the EU, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland in practice across a range of different situations, such as first-time mothers and breech births.
For example, the study authors said under half of multiple births in Norway, Iceland, Finland and the Netherlands were born by caesarean section, compared with over 90% in Malta and Cyprus.
Meanwhile, fewer than three quarters of breech births in Norway and Finland were by caesarean section, compared with over 90% in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Scotland and Switzerland.
Lead researchers Professor Alison Macfarlane, from City University London, said: “The differences observed raise questions about why there are such wide variations in clinical practice.
“This means we need a comparative review of national policies and guidelines and further research to ensure that clinical practice is based on evidence, and to prioritise the health of mothers and children,” she said.
Findings from the study Euro-Peristat were published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.