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Keywords:

  • Absence of conception;
  • caesarean section;
  • future pregnancy;
  • infertility;
  • population-based study

Background  Women who deliver by caesarean section have been shown to be less likely to have a subsequent pregnancy. It is not clear whether this is due to a direct effect of the procedure on future fertility or due to deliberate avoidance of a future pregnancy.

Objective  To investigate whether absence of conception following caesarean section is voluntary or involuntary.

Design  Follow up of a population-based retrospective cohort.

Setting  Grampian region, Scotland.

Population  Women who had no further viable pregnancies within 5 years of an initial delivery.

Methods  Cases included women who delivered their first child by caesarean section between 1980 and 1995 but had no further viable pregnancies by December 2000. Controls included women who delivered their first child during the same period, by means of either spontaneous vaginal delivery (SVD) or instrumental vaginal delivery (IVD), and who had no further viable pregnancies by December 2000. Eligible women were identified from the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal Databank (AMND) and sent postal questionnaires to determine the extent to which not conceiving after first delivery was voluntary and the reasons for avoiding further pregnancies. Characteristics of the different mode of delivery groups were compared using univariate techniques.

Main outcome measures  Extent to which absence of conception following an initial delivery by caesarean section is voluntary.

Results  Questionnaires were returned by 3204 (60%) of 5300 women identified from the AMND. Of these, 1675 women had not conceived at all during the follow-up period (median duration = 13 years). Absence of conception was voluntary in 488 (69%; 95% CI 66–73%) women following caesarean section, 340 (71%; 95% CI 67–76%) following SVD and 354 (72%; 95% CI 68–76%) following IVD. Few women considered seeking fertility treatment (caesarean section = 72 [10%], SVD = 50 [11%], IVD = 39 [8%]). Of the women who decided to delay or avoid a further pregnancy, fewer women who delivered by SVD reported that the birth experience influenced their decision (caesarean section = 163 [32%], SVD = 67 [18%], IVD = 136 [35%]; P < 0.001).

Conclusions  Irrespective of mode of delivery, not conceiving following the birth of the first child is mainly voluntary. The experience of the previous birth is one of several factors affecting women's decisions to avoid a subsequent pregnancy.