Birthing facts and statistics

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Originally published 25 February 2013.

Reliable statistics on labor and birth are surprisingly hard to find. Here are the best I have so far.

More than a third of births in the United States are done by cesarean section surgery.

More than 80% of women are given drugs to either speed up or induce labor

  • the drug most often used to speed up or induce labor is Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin
  • Pitocin-induced labor involves more intense uterine contractions than natural labor, where oxytocin is not released in such a steady dose
  • Pitocin can restrict blood flow to the uterus, which increases the risk of further complications and medical interventions
  • with an IV drip and fetal monitoring device, these women are either totally or partially restricted in movement, which exaggerates the pain

86% of women are given some form of pain medication to deal with painful contractions

  • 76% of all women are given either epidural anesthetic or spinal analgesia for the pain
  • epidural anesthetic removes the woman's body's ability to respond to the sensations labor
  • 41% of women given epidural anesthetic feel a strong need to 'push', while 77% of women undergoing natural births feel that sensation.
  • an anesthetized woman in labor becomes further immobile, which means she cannot easily assume a natural position for labor
  • epidural anesthetic can sometimes cause a drop in the mother's blood pressure, requiring intervention
  • 1/4 of all women report walking around sometime after being admitted to hospital
  • the numbing effect of the epidural anesthetic generally increases the amount of time required for labor
  • longer labor time increases the chances that the doctor will perform a cesarean surgery, use forceps or a vacuum suction, and/or cut the vagina (i.e. an episiotomy) to enable the easier extraction of the fetus

Intra-venous pain medication given to the mother during labor crosses into the blood stream into the fetus, increasing the chance of side-effects in the newborn, including:

  • low blood pressure in either or both the child and the mother
  • drowsiness and drug-induced cognitive underperformance in newborn for up to several days after birth
  • increased chance that the newborn will require medical resuscitation upon birth, due to difficulty breathing
  • increased chance of the newborn having liver or kidney problems due to metabolizing the medications
  • inability to properly breastfeed, due to residual narcotics in breast milk, and the medicated baby's inability to properly latch to the breast.