Caesarean section rates are progressively rising in many parts of the world. One suggested reason is increasing requests by women for caesarean section in the absence of clear medical indications, such as placenta praevia, HIV infection, contracted pelvis and, arguably, breech presentation or previous caesarean section. The reported benefits of planned caesarean section include greater safety for the baby, less pelvic floor trauma for the mother, avoidance of labour pain and convenience. The potential disadvantages, from observational studies, include increased risk of major morbidity or mortality for the mother, adverse psychological sequelae, and problems in subsequent pregnancies, including uterine scar rupture and a greater risk of stillbirth and neonatal morbidity. The differences in neonatal physiology following vaginal and caesarean births are thought to have implications for the infant, with caesarean section potentially increasing the risk of compromised health in both the short and the long term. An unbiased assessment of advantages and disadvantages would assist discussion of what has become a contentious issue in modern obstetrics.