Dangerous birth: Is childbirth becoming over-medicalized?

C-section rates are at an all-time high in the U.S. at 1 in 3 births, endangering the lives of thousands of women and babies. Has labor and childbirth become over-medicalized?

The natural cycle of life

Birth is a natural part in the cycle of life. Unfortunately, modern medicine practices over the last 100 years have increasingly medicalized childbirth — so much so that in our current culture, birth is now viewed by most as a medical emergency. Doctors regularly intervene with the natural process of labor, causing C-section rates to skyrocket. According to a new report titled Health Grades 2011 Obstetrics & Gynecology in American Hospitals, Cesarean rates are at record highs in the U.S. at 34 percent of all births.

Risks of high-tech birth

The most common operating room procedure in the country, C- section delivery is not without great risk to both moms and babies. Complications for mothers can range from blood clots, excessive bleeding, infection, longer recovery time, and injury to the bladder, uterus or bowel. Babies born before term also suffer serious complications. They are much more likely to have respiratory problems, develop asthma, have difficulties breastfeeding and there is a much higher risk for death.

What’s wrong with this picture?

In many ways, we are lucky to live in a technologically advanced society with access to all the conveniences of modern medicine. When a mother or baby’s life is in danger, C-sections can save lives. But the overuse of surgical birth in the U.S. is perplexing. When compared with the rest of the world, our statistics are alarming. While the optimal C-section rate recommended by the World Health Organization is between 5 and 10 percent, we are delivering 1 out of every 3 babies by Cesarean. What’s worse, we rank lower than 33 countries in maternal mortality rates and behind 40 in infant mortality rates.

Dr. Alan Fleischman, medical director of the March of Dimes commented on the risks posed by the overuse of Cesarean section: “We at the March of Dimes have great concerns not just about the rate, but about what’s driving it.” Dr. Divya Cantor, senior physician consultant for Health Grades also expressed concern: “C-sections are rising, and there needs to be a little bit more scrutiny from the person who is having the C-section as well as doctors and hospitals.”

How to have a safe birth

Interested in lowering your risk for complications during labor? There are several things you can do.


Choose a
like-minded practitioner

Whether you choose to deliver with an OB-GYN or a midwife, be sure to ask lots of questions about his or her birthing style, induction and C-section rates.

Doctor or midwife: Which should you choose? >>


Hire a birth doula

Studies show women who have continuous support during labor and delivery dramatically improve their chances of birthing a healthy baby naturally without the need for medical intervention.

Five reasons to hire a birth doula >>


Write a birth plan

Writing a birth plan is a great way to educate yourself about all the possibilities during labor and delivery. No, it won’t guarantee your ideal birth, but it will place you firmly on a path headed in that direction.

Realistic birth planning >>

More on labor and birth

Birth center vs. hospital
VBAC: What is it?
Honoring your unique birth experience


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