General anaesthetic for women giving birth by caesarean section
Anaesthesia is used to relieve pain during a caesarean section, with almost all women who have a caesarean section receiving some type of anaesthesia. General anaesthetic is one method of administering anaesthesia for caesarean section and is most commonly indicated when the operation is urgent or when regional anaesthetics are contra-indicated or have failed amongst other factors. For more information, see Clinical commentary.
This indicator examines the proportion of women who received a general anaesthetic when giving birth by caesarean section.
In 2021, around 1 in 20 (5.3%) women who had a caesarean section birth received a general anaesthetic.
The proportion of women receiving a general anaesthetic when giving birth by caesarean section:
- has decreased from 8.2% in 2007 to 5.3% in 2021
- was highest for women younger than 20 (17% in 2021) compared with other age groups
- was higher for women living in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas than for women living in the least disadvantaged areas
- was higher for women giving birth in a public hospital than for women giving birth in a private hospital (6.8% compared with 2.1% in 2021).
The interactive data visualisation (Figure 11) presents data for women who had a general anaesthetic when giving birth by caesarean section by selected maternal characteristics. Select the trend button to see how data have changed between 2007 and 2021.
Figure 11: General anaesthetic for women giving birth by caesarean section
General anaesthetic for women giving birth by caesarean section, 2007 to 2021.
This chart shows the proportion of women having a general anaesthetic giving birth by caesarean section for the current data 2021 and trend data from 2007 to 2021. The proportion of women receiving a general anaesthetic giving birth by caesarean section for all Australia decreased from 8.2% in 2007 to 5.3% in 2021.
Regional anaesthesia (or epidural) is the most common method of providing anaesthesia for caesarean section (96%) (AIHW 2023). Regional anaesthesia is safer for mother and baby than general anaesthesia (NICE 2021). When general anaesthesia is used, the most common indications are urgency, maternal refusal of regional techniques, inadequate or failed regional attempts, and regional contraindications including coagulation or spinal abnormalities (Shroff et al. 2004). Obstetric indications, such as placenta praevia, were considered absolute indications for general anaesthesia however, there are now indications that general anaesthesia may not be the only option (McGlennan and Mustafa 2009).
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2023) Australia’s mothers and babies, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 29 June 2023.
NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) (2021) Caesarean birth: NICE guideline 192, NICE, Manchester, accessed 11 October 2021.
McGlennan A and Mustafa A (2009) ‘General anaesthetic for caesarean section’ Continuing Education in Anaesthesia Critical Care & Pain, 9(5):148–151, doi:10.1093/bjaceaccp/mkp025.
Shroff R, Thompson A, McCrum A and Rees S (2004) ‘Prospective multidisciplinary audit of obstetric general anaesthesia in a district general hospital’, Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 6:641–646, doi:10.1080/01443610400007877.