Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Medicalization of Birth Hasn't Made it Safer

Today, with advances in medical technology, drugs for pain relief during labor and birth, and an increase in the number of neonatal intensive care units, people might think that women have more birthing options than ever before.  They may also believe that birthing is safer than at any other time in history.  This is not neccessarily true.

The United States offers the most technically advanced obstetrical care in the world.  Ninety-eight percent of all births in the United States take place in hospitals, and the majority of them are attended by physicians.  Yet when this country is compared with others worldwide, it ranks only thirty-first in maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rates, with 6.63 newborn deaths for every 1,000 live births.  (Mortality reflects the number of deaths and morbidity reflects the number of illnesses associated with birth.)  Every single European nation has better maternal and infant outcomes than the United States.  As of 2004 one of the safest countries in the world in which to have a baby was Sweded, with only 2.7 deaths per 1,000 births.  The majority of the industrialized nations that have good statistics have one thing in common that the United States lacks- midwives, and lots of them, who see birth as normal and natural and are the gatekeepers for all pregnant women.

While there are additional factors to consider when comparing birth outcomes in different countries, such as socialized medicine and access to care, it cannot be denied that there is a strong case for reconsidering the consequences of the "medicalization" of childbirth.

-From Gentle Birth Choices, by Barbara Harper, R.N.

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