RCOGs latest report looking at practises and outcomes across the UK has found that some hospitals have been carrying out planned caesareans prior to 39 weeks when there is no clear medical reason to do so.
39 weeks has been defined (by NICE) as the preferred time to perform a planned caesarean (where there are no medical reason why it should be carried out earlier). This is because at 39 weeks the lungs are sufficiently mature to be able to cope with birth and the risk of breathing difficulties is no longer statistically significantly different to that of vaginal birth at the same stage. In addition, delaying beyond 40 weeks means that mum is more likely to go into labour prior to the caesarean and this increases (very slighlty) the difficulties associated with performing a caesarean on a womb that is contracting. (See also When is it safe to schedule a caesarean?)
Much of the data used to generate the report has been taken from caesareans carried out AFTER the NICE guidelines were issued in 2011, so it does beg the question – why do some practitioners continue to ignore clear medical evidence as captured by the NICE guidelines. Some practitioners/hospitals continue to pick and mix those elements which suit their purposes. Hence why we see some hospitals performing caeareans prior to 39 weeks and others banning planned caesareans entirely. Is it any wonder women have no idea who to trust and what to believe.