7 Painful Truths About Childbirth In America

Why the U.S. has become ‘the most dangerous place in the developed world to have baby’

Janice Harayda

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Childbirth by Parentingupstream on Pixabay

Childbirth in America is nasty, brutish, and long.

In recent decades, a high-tech onslaught has made labor and delivery rooms look like a set for Star Trek. Some gains have resulted — most notably, preterm survival rates are increasing.

But new and expectant mothers still have a higher death rate in the United States than in most developed countries. They are about three times as likely die giving birth as a woman in Britain and Canada.

American women also have longer — and often more painful — deliveries than their mothers did, owing to the soaring use of drugs that speed up labor by causing more rapid and forceful uterine contractions. They seldom get the full picture of their risks from books intended to be “reassuring,” such as What to Expect When You’re Expecting and its spin-offs.

The only industrialized country where maternal mortality is rising

You might imagine all the high-tech devices and labor-boosting drugs had made childbirth safer and easier for women, but you’d be wrong.

The U.S. is “the most dangerous place in the developed world to deliver a baby,” according to a major USA Today investigation. It is the only industrialized country in which maternal mortality is rising, and for every woman who dies giving birth, 70 almost die, according to a study by NPR and ProPublica.

Kate Middleton, reportedly attended by a midwife at the birth of Prince George / Wikimedia Commons

The maternity care crisis has been building for years, but the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown it into relief by exposing the worker shortages that compound it. The overturning of Roe vs. Wade raises the risk that new reproductive health concerns will overshadow the urgent need to improve the labor and delivery experiences of millions of women.

Here some painful truths that show why — amid its other health crises — the United States shouldn’t overlook its maternity care scandals.

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Janice Harayda

Critic, novelist, award-winning journalist. Former book editor of the Plain Dealer and book columnist for Glamour. Words in NYT, WSJ, and other major media.