The number of Caesarean births in Italy is the highest in Europe and is even ahead of the United States of America, according to research recently released by ISTAT, the Italian statistics institute. Slightly more than one baby in three is delivered by Caesarean, 36.9 per cent to be precise. The operation is particularly common in the south of Italy and in private clinics, and is not confined to older mothers. In fact 52,5 per cent of Caesareans are performed on mothers over the age of 40 and 33.6 per cent to women over the age of 30.

Italian women also have more echographs during pregnancy (seven in nine months) and more gynaecological check ups than their European counterparts.

The proportion of Caesarean births seems to run directly contrary to the birth rate in the individual countries. For instance in Italy, where each family has an average of 1.33 children, Caesarean births are very common, whereas in France and Norway, where the average family has 1.85 children, Caesarean births are only around 15 per cent of the total, less than half the Italian rate.

Italian doctors claim that as first-time mothers grow older, they are less prepared to take any risks, but Amedeo Bianco, president of the order of medical practitioners, says that women should be less frightened, particularly as many more of them are being offered pain free births by way of epidural injections.