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A new program will study why the number of C-sections in New Brunswick is on the increase. (Canadian Press)

The rate of caesarean section births in New Brunswick is on the rise, according to the province's Health Minister Ted Flemming.

C-section rates in New Brunswick range from 20 to 40 per cent with an average of 28 per cent, he said.

That's slightly above the national average of 26 per cent, but far greater than the World Health Organization's recommendation of between 5 and 15 per cent.

This week, the province's health department announced a new initiative to study maternal and newborn health.

Dr. Lynn Murphy-Kaulbeck, maternal fetal medicine specialist, hopes the program, which will be based out of Moncton, will help clarify what's behind the increase in C-sections.

"I think there's quite a few reasons. Maternal obesity is a huge issue that is related to maternal medical problems such as hypertension, diabetes, all of these different things. And it's clearly shown in the literature that obesity is a risk factor for C-sections," said Murphy-Kaulbeck.

She said the increase in older mothers and more medical problems in pregnancies could also be factors.

"We know by doing that first section, we put you at risk for other complications in your next pregnancy. I think we really have to revisit those issues and how do we get the section rate back to something that's probably more acceptable."

The initiative will also focus on neonatal intensive care admission rates, according to Flemming.