Birthing facts and statistics
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.
- From 1996 to 2007, the rate of cesarean surgery increased by 53%.
- Most 'urgent' cesareans happen during the day, not at night.
- Conflicting theories to explain this include: involvement of women's natural circadian rhythms, and the theory that doctors don't want to work during suppertime.
- Some estimates say that half of all cesareans are medically unnecessary, and only the rare few are elective
- Fewer than 10% of births to women who have previously undergone a cesarean are vaginal births. In 1994, that number was greater than 26%.
- 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.