Recent obstetrical practice trends in 12 countries were surveyed. There was a 3-fold difference in caesarean section rates and a 10-fold difference in instrumental vaginal delivery rates among countries. There was a net increase in the caesarean section rate of all countries over the study period and a net decrease in the instrumental vaginal delivery rate of some countries. There was a decrease in the caesarean section rate during the last year of observation in Australia, Denmark and Finland. In general, countries with high caesarean rates also had high instrumental vaginal delivery rates. There was no consistent relationship between use of caesarean section and use of instrumental vaginal delivery, although in several countries increasing use of caesarean section was accompanied by decreasing use of instrumental vaginal delivery. Oxytocin use rates were associated positively with instrumental delivery but not with caesarean section rates. While it was not possible to determine the proportions of women who received appropriate obstetrical care, we can infer that a significant proportion of interventions were unnecessary or only marginally beneficial. Continued increases in rates of obstetrical intervention are unlikely to result in improvements in birth outcome overall and may pose a risk to mothers and their newborns.