The U.S. has a long-standing reputation for simultaneously placing mothers on a pedestal like saints while also ignoring them when it comes to policies that govern everyday life. For many women, this disparity starts right from the beginning of their pregnancy journey, as they face a range of challenges that can make the experience of having a baby less healthy and happy than it should be.
As an OB nurse and mother of four, I have seen firsthand the impact of these challenges on women and their families. Here are nine aspects of how women give birth in the United States that need to change, pronto:
Doctors over midwives
In the U.S., over 3.5 million births are overseen by a doctor, while only 320,000 are with a nurse-midwife. However, studies have shown that midwives provide better outcomes for both mothers and babies, particularly for low-risk, healthy pregnancies. As a midwife, I have seen the difference that a patient-centered approach can make. By empowering women to take an active role in their care, we can help them have a healthier and more positive childbirth experience.
Options for pain control
While epidurals are the most common form of pain relief during childbirth in the U.S., there are many other effective options available. For example, laughing gas is popular in Europe and Canada because it is temporary, patient-controlled, and cost-effective, with no proven side effects on the mother or baby. By offering a wider range of pain relief options, we can help women have a more comfortable and positive childbirth experience.
In the U.S., most women are mandated to stay at least 24 hours after a vaginal delivery, but what happens after they leave the hospital can vary widely. In many other countries, midwives and nurses visit new mothers at home to ensure their physical and mental health is stable, providing vital education and support during a confusing time. The World Health Organization recommends daily home visits for at least one week after birth, and also three additional postnatal contacts with all mothers and newborns.
The day-old pediatrician visit
After giving birth, the idea of dragging yourself and your newborn to the doctor’s office for a wellness check can seem daunting. In many countries, pediatricians visit new mothers and babies in their homes, which can help prevent the spread of germs and make the experience less stressful. By offering at-home check-ups, we can help mothers and babies get the care they need without unnecessary hassle and risk.
Immediate cord clamping
The evidence overwhelmingly points to the benefits of waiting at least one minute after birth before clamping the cord. (Most doctors currently only wait a second or two.) By waiting, we can help babies receive more blood and oxygen from the placenta, which can improve their overall health and reduce the risk of anemia.
It is ludicrous that the U.S. is the only developed country in the world without guaranteed maternity leave. In fact, a recent study found that only 17% of American workers have access to paid leave through their employer. By offering paid maternity leave, we can help new mothers recover from childbirth and bond with their babies without having to worry about financial stress.
The pressure to “bounce back”
The pressure to “bounce back” after childbirth can be overwhelming, with society often placing unrealistic expectations on women’s bodies. However, it is important to remember that every woman’s body is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to postpartum recovery. By accepting and embracing our bodies after childbirth, we can help reduce stress and promote overall health and happiness.
Pretty much everything about labor
The current U.S. model of labor and delivery is often characterized by hospital stays, IVs, bed rest, and epidurals. However, there are other effective approaches to childbirth, such as water birth, hypnobirthing, and natural childbirth. By offering a wider range of options, we can help women have a childbirth experience that is tailored to their needs and preferences.
The do-it-all-yourself mentality
Many women feel pressure to “do it all” after childbirth, but this can be overwhelming and isolating. By accepting help from family and friends, we can reduce stress and promote overall health and happiness for both mothers and babies.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 830 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications around the world every day. In the U.S., black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. By addressing these issues and providing better care for women during and after childbirth, we can help reduce these numbers and promote better health and happiness for all families.