Despite numerous studies reporting an increased risk of cesarean delivery among overweight or obese compared with normal weight women, the magnitude of the association remains uncertain. Therefore, we conducted a meta-analysis of the current literature to provide a quantitative estimate of this association. We identified studies from three sources: (i) a PubMed search of relevant articles published between January 1980 and September 2005; (ii) reference lists of publications selected from the search; and (iii) reference lists of review articles published between 2000 and 2005. We included cohort designed studies that reported obesity measures reflecting pregnancy body mass, had a normal weight comparison group, and presented data allowing a quantitative measurement of risk. We used a Bayesian random effects model to perform the meta-analysis and meta-regression. Thirty-three studies were included. The unadjusted odd ratios of a cesarean delivery were 1.46 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.34–1.60], 2.05 (95% CI: 1.86–2.27) and 2.89 (95% CI: 2.28–3.79) among overweight, obese and severely obese women, respectively, compared with normal weight pregnant women. The meta-regression found no evidence that these estimates were affected by selected study characteristics. Our findings provide a quantitative estimate of the risk of cesarean delivery associated with high maternal body mass.