The rate of babies delivered by C-section in the U.S. dropped slightly to 31.9 percent last year from 32 percent in 2015, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's a 3 percent drop from the 2009 peak of 32.9 percent.

The C-section rate for low-risk births, a number meant to track possibly unnecessary procedures, also fell slightly to 25.7 percent last year from 25.8 percent in 2015. “Low-risk” means full-term, first births of single babies in the head-down position.

Though stabilized, the rates are still much higher than they were in the mid-1990s, when the low-risk C-section rate hovered at around 19 percent, and the overall C-section rate was about 21 percent.

More on C-Sections

Some C-sections are medically necessary, such as when complications arise during labor or if the mother has uncontrolled high blood pressure. But for most pregnancies, C-sections are not necessary, experts say, and come with increased cost and a greater risk of complications for mother and baby. And studies show that most women say they would prefer a vaginal birth.

“I’m certainly glad that [the rates] are not continuing to skyrocket,” says Neel Shah, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. He stopped short, however, of calling the small drop “something to celebrate.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) released guidelines in 2014 with a goal of curbing unnecessary C-sections, which may be part of the reason C-section rates seem to be trending down, Shah says. Still, given all the recommendations and research, "it’s remarkable that we haven't improved more," he says.

The Department of Health and Human Services says hospitals should aim for C-section rates of 23.9 percent or lower for low-risk births. But a Consumer Reports analysis published earlier this year shows that more than half of hospitals that publicly report their C-section data do not meet this target.

Doris Peter, Ph.D., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, says the C-section rates continue to be too high. "We still need more action from doctors and hospitals to address the problem," she says.

While the underlying causes of unnecessary C-sections will take a long time to change, says Peter, “individual women have a lot of power to protect themselves against unwanted, unnecessary C-sections.”

Here are some steps you can take right now to reduce your risk.

Tips to Avoid an Unnecessary C-Section

Pick the right hospital. A recent Consumer Reports analysis, which looked at data from 1,300 U.S. hospitals, revealed dramatic variations in hospital C-section rates, even within the same communities.

The C-section rate for low-risk births at large hospitals ranged from 7 percent to 51 percent. For this reason, it's important to look up your hospital’s rate in advance to get a sense of its overall track record. (You can use our hospital lookup tool here.)

Consider a midwife. For low-to-moderate risk pregnancies, going with a certified nurse midwife instead of an obstetrician can be a good strategy to help you avoid an unnecessary C-section, Peter says. Midwives do not do surgery themselves, and they only transfer women to a surgeon if there are serious complications.

Don’t rush. Unless you live hours from the hospital where you’re delivering, talk to your provider about how long you can stay home once your labor starts.

“Be really thoughtful about when you go to the hospital,” says Shah. “Showing up too early is actually a fairly big risk factor for getting a C-section,” because doctors don’t always let labor proceed naturally.

Once you arrive at the hospital, try to ignore the clock: A long labor is not in itself a good reason for a C-section, according to the ACOG guidelines. And a doctor should never induce labor unless it's medically important—if a woman's water breaks but labor does not start naturally, for example.