Labor Intensive

Credit KUOW Photo/Nick Danielson

Cesarean deliveries have increased over the last 15 years, in Seattle, and around the state—for no apparent medical reason. Now hospitals around the state are trying to bring those rates back down.

In a new series called "Labor Intensive,"  KUOW looks at what some hospitals are doing to cut down on excessive deliveries by C-section.

Read stories from the series and explore others about birth and parenting.

KUOW Photo/Nick Danielson

The stories from the labor and delivery ward at UW Medical Center in Seattle are often told breathlessly.

A nurse tells of a pregnant woman who arrived at the hospital brain dead after being airlifted from Eastern Washington. She was kept alive as nurses pumped her breasts to feed her baby, who had been delivered by cesarean section.

Gary Taylor/Whidbey Island General Hospital

In Coupeville, Washington, Sarah Meyer is pressing a fetal Doppler on Christine Meyer’s belly to check the baby’s heart rate.

Meyer, no relation to Christine, then checks her ankles for swelling. Christine is 25, and this is her first baby. She says she chose Whidbey General because the hospital offers what she was looking for – a midwife.

Courtesy Emily Cameron

Public health officials across the U.S. say the number of cesarean sections being performed has gotten way out of hand. It's a life-saving surgery for complicated births, but today nearly a third of pregnancies end up as a C-section.

Family photo

Dots denote hospitals; click for the C-section rate. Red dot = hospital where rate for low-risk moms exceeds 20 percent -- about what the World Health Organization recommended in a 2010 report. (KUOW/Kara McDermott)

It’s 7 p.m. on a Thursday at Valley Hospital and Medical Center in Spokane, and Dr. Nathan Meltzer has already had a very long day.

He has one mother in labor. She’s been there for more than 12 hours.