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Giving birth in a hospital is riskier than you think

We’ve come a long way in the safety of hospital births since the days when doctors would routinely and accidentally infect patients with their bare hands. But we still have a lot of work to do.

A new report shows that hospital birth is not nearly as safe for women and newborns as we would like to think — and we all deserve better.

The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit watchdog, released the results of its 2014 Maternity Care report, and here’s something shocking for you: Maternity care in the U.S. is still not up to snuff. According to the report, less than a third of hospitals across the nation meet Leapfrog’s standard for high?risk deliveries of very low birth weight babies, and 35 percent of hospitals are still performing too many episiotomies.

So what does this all mean? Basically that hospitals are taking unnecessary risks with women and newborns, in the name of profit and convenience.

The report found that less than a quarter of hospitals are not equipped to take care of low birth weight babies, which are babies that will obviously need a lot more specialized care. More and more babies are being born with low birth weights, as more mothers with high-risk pregnancies, such as multiples or complications from advanced age, are giving birth, so it’s important that all hospitals have the equipment to deal with those babies, even if they’re not specializing in high-risk deliveries.

Induction is also a huge cause for low birth weight in babies, because contrary to popular belief, those full 40 weeks do matter. Ovulation and fertilization can be off by as much as two weeks for women, so unless you were inseminated by a doctor, there is no way to know exactly how old your baby is. If your doctor induces you at 39 weeks, your baby may be only 37 weeks old, and let me assure you that I have seen babies go to the NICU at that age. Nature grows ’em for nine months for a reason.

Unfortunately all these interventions can be traced back to the fact that, bottom line, hospitals are concerned about money. Inducing women early means a faster turnover, and episiotomies can mean faster deliveries and opening up a new bed for the next woman to deliver. I’ve worked in a small, rural hospital, and although we technically didn’t accept “high-risk deliveries,” that didn’t stop a woman down the road, whose water broke at 30 weeks, from waltzing through the doors at 3 a.m. Emergencies happen, and hospitals need to take the time and money to train their staff for those high-risk deliveries that are just bound to happen, no matter what.

Better maternity care is good for business too, as the report points out. If you were an employer, what bill would you rather pay for your employee — a standard vaginal delivery with no complications, or a three-day induction resulting in a baby that has to be rushed to the NICU and a mom who bleeds out from a tired uterus? And let’s not forget the fact that we’re talking about actual people here and that those women who are giving birth aren’t just baby-making factories but actual real, live, breathing women who are part of the workplace in some way or another, whether that be bringing home a paycheck or raising future workers. Unlike in every other unit in a hospital, a woman giving birth is not sick, so it’s frustrating that maternity care is lumped into every other category in health care.

As a wise woman (cough, Patricia Arquette, cough) recently pointed out, mothers get the short end of the stick across the board — in wage, in employment opportunities and, apparently, even in their own health care. And it’s time for that to change.

More on hospital birth

Home birth or hospital?
Why my hospital births were like a vacation
Basics of birth plan writing

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